Review: Made by one of Thailand’s horror powerhouses, Sophon Sakdaphisit, The Promise tells a fictional ghost story about the country’s famous Ghost Tower —an abandoned 47-floor skyscraper, a reminder to the country’s downfall during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Similarly to Sophon’s other films, The Promise builds the horror on a dramatic foundation. Sophon has experimented on family tropes in Ladda Land and friendship tropes in The Swimmer; in his latest work, he combines them both along with some urban legend and national history.
With the financial crisis in the not too distant background, The Promise begins with a BFF trope of two girls—young Ib (Panisura Rikulsurakan) and Boum (Thunyaphat Pattarateerachaicharoen)—whose lives were deeply affected by the crisis. Fell from grace together, the girls decided to commit suicide on the tower built by their fathers. The former instantly killed herself with a shot to the head, point-blank; while the latter hesitated after witnessing her BFF died and finally called her attempt off.
20 years later, the surviving Boum (Numthip Jongrachatawiboon) has become a successful career woman with one daughter, Bell (Apichaya Thongkham). In a desperate call, Boum attempts to revitalize the abandoned tower for her collapsing property business. Dealing with the tower again doesn’t simply bring her memories of the past back, but it also brings the past back to fulfill the long-forgotten promise.
Sophon presents the drama intensely during the first 20 minutes, highlighting a strong connection between Ib and Boum. While the drama serves an effective backstory to the paranormal story, Sophon’s the script—co-written with Sopana Chaowiwatkul & Supalerk Ningsanond—overdoes the drama making it a little too sentimental and tear-jerking. Boum and Ib’s friendship drama later juxtaposes with Boum and Bell’s mother-daughter relationship intriguingly. The director expertly makes the drama facet of The Promise heartfelt; but, often he focuses more on this facet, making it far superior to the horror.
The horror facet is arguably the film’s biggest gripe. It’s hard to believe that this film comes from the filmmaker who once scared the hell out of audiences with Coming Soon and Ladda Land. While Sophon’s decision not to display any ghoulish apparition is a bold step, the horror execution is disappointing at best. Without apparition, The Promise relies much on jump-scares presented with poltergeist activities and sleepwalking phenomena. While the atmosphere might remind audiences to early 2000s horror from East Asia, The Promise ruins it with loud discords and clamoring sound effects, which practically wipe off all the horror potentials.
The third act falters with some threads left non-satisfyingly clinging. The climax and conclusion feel draggy and tiresome; at the same time, the drama never really reaches its full potential. Even, the most climactic moment in The Promise feels off, sealing its reputation as Sophon Sakdaphisit’s most disappointing work to date.