Laos’ first ever crime-thriller, “At the Horizon” is a well-written and well-performed account of a mute mechanic who violently crosses paths with a rich college kid. Pushing the boundaries of censorship with an honest depiction of social division in this communist state while carefully avoiding overt political commentary, debuting scripter-helmer Anysay Keola has produced a solid genre piece that marks him as a talent worth watching. Pic played commercially in a censored version locally in February 2012 and ought to extend its steady run of fest appearances for some time yet. International and regional ancillary prospects appear bright.
With barely a handful of Laotian features having played beyond national borders in the past 35 years, “At the Horizon” reps a significant step in efforts to stimulate filmmaking activity in the landlocked state. Pic is the first feature effort by Lao New Wave Cinema Prods., a loose collective of local indie filmmakers whose aim to produce accessible entertainment for domestic and international auds is off to a promising start.
An arresting opening segment finds Sin (Khounkham Sidthiyom), a young guy with a punk haircut, screaming for help while chained to a chair in a dingy building. Several minutes later, Sin meets his captor, Lud (Khamhou Phanludeth), a mute in his mid-30s. In no mood to accept the money Sin offers in exchange for his freedom, Lud stuffs the rich kid’s mouth with his own cash.
How these two men from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum have been drawn together is played out in a series of punchy flashbacks and flashbacks-within-flashbacks. The early emphasis is on Sin, a smarmy college student from a wealthy family who drives a flashy SUV, carries a handgun like it’s a toy, and cheats constantly on his beautiful g.f., Mouk (Thipphakesone Misaybua).
On the other side of town, Lud works diligently at his motorcycle repair shop and is a devoted husband to his wife (Vatsana Sayoudom), a vegetable seller, and loving father to their adorable young daughter (Loungnam Samadmanyvong).
Flecked with eye-opening snapshots of everyday life in Laos’ capital city Vientiane, the pacey narrative shows Sin carousing recklessly around town with his best buddy, Sak (Phoudsagna Phommaboud), after being dumped by fed-up Mouk, with violent and tragic results.
Though some auds may be slightly confused by the placement of a few sequences within the nonlinear narrative, everything becomes crystal-clear by the two-thirds mark when the action returns to the present. Themes of social inequality, personal responsibility and the application of justice are vividly examined en route to a suspenseful, bloody and highly satisfying climax.
With no prior thesping experience, local popstar Sidthiyom and graphic designer Phanludeth are convincing and compelling in physically and emotionally demanding roles. Supporting perfs are fine, with a nice turn by Miss Laos 2012 runner-up Misaybua as the mistreated g.f. who finally finds the courage to dismiss her arrogant boyfriend.
A Laotian national educated at Australian and Thai universities, helmer Keola directs an inexperienced cast with aplomb, and displays a confident grasp of what’s required visually and in storytelling terms to keeps a character-driven thriller ticking.
Smooth widescreen lensing by K.M. Lo and Thanavorakit Khounthawatphinyo helps the microbudget movie appear much more expensive. Volachit Intharaphitak’s brooding electronic score adds real sting to proceedings, and other technical aspects are thoroughly pro.