Dearest Sister (Nong Hak) is the second feature film from Lao Director Mattie Do following on from 2013’s Chanthaly. Mattie’s work is groundbreaking for several reasons; firstly Laos has a very small film production with only 13 films to this date being produced in the country. Secondly, Mattie is the only female director to have made horror movies in Laos and faced creative restrictions in how much graphic imagery she could visualize on screen which include both gore and scenes of intimacy between actors. With a strong crowd funding campaign behind her courtesy of Indie Go Go, Dearest Sister proved to be a passionate project and has resulted in a potential trilogy of films focusing on the characterization of women in Laos.
Starring Amphaiphun Phommapunya in her third on screen role, her debut being Chanthaly; Dearest Sister centers on Nok, a young village girl who travels to Laos capital city Vientiane to care for her visually impaired cousin Ana (Vilouna Phetmany). Ana faces vulnerability and confusion as her sight begins to fail her. She then develops a paranormal ability to communicate with the dead which Nok uses to her own advantage.
Dearest Sister is an intriguing character study of female hierarchy and the place of women within their own society and culture. It depicts Ana, the wealthy housewife who’s status was achieved through marriage to an Estonian man. Her role is complex due to being looked down on by her peers and detested by her servants. Nok is portrayed as coming from a poor village however through her familial association with Ana she is again met with resentment from the maids. Instructed by Ana’s strict husband Jakob, Nok is to care for Ana but is permitted from partaking in domestic housework. The dynamics shift throughout the film which adds to the compelling drama. Amphaiphun Phommapunya who previously played a more empathetic part in Chanthaly is given a edgier role this time around, she’s an untrustworthy protagonist. Nok isn’t necessarily bad however her poor upbringing and experience of a higher class in her cousin’s home motivates her to look out for herself financially which results in her using Ana’s “gift” for her own gain. The film’s underbelly is layered with the ghostly subtext and Mattie presents the idea of a spiritual world with subtly. The idea of fear and an otherworldly presence is created through the atmosphere coming across as genuinely spine chilling rather than using the obvious jump scares tactics.
The film offers up something different in comparison to any genre film on the circuit this year as well as any female fronted horror film that has emerged during 2016. You won’t find Lottery ghosts anywhere else! Dearest Sister is an authentic portrayal of Lao culture amidst a horror subtext. It’s cinematography is beautifully composed, the characters are compelling to watch aided by strong performances by the cast, namely Amphaiphun Phommapunya and Vilouna Phetmany in the leading roles, there’s a naturalistic quality about them. Mattie Do is setting the standard for Lao horror and Lao filmmaking and is a director to look out for.
The Ghostface Girls
interviewed Mattie Do
and Producer Annick Mahnert
at Celluloid Screams here.
Hayley Alice Roberts