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Plot: paranoid delusional drives aimlessly around the Nevada desert.

If it weren’t for eloquent film vlogger Georg Rockall-Schmidt we probably would never have been exposed to the deranged world of independent Las Vegas filmmaker Neil Breen. Breen was an architect, and one-time real estate agent, who like entrepreneurs-turned-filmmakers Hal Warren and H.B. Halicki before him took to writing, producing, and directing his own films as a bizarre part-time hobby. Since debuting with the opaque Double Down in 2005 Breen has directed an additional four features. Double Down has all known Breen-isms that would make their return, in one form or another, in I Am Here… Now (2009), Fateful Findings (2013), Pass Thru (2016), and Twisted Pair (2018). Once you see a Neil Breen film you can never unsee it again. It has the power to ensnare, or to annoy.

While other directors dabble in easily exploitable genres (action/science fiction or fantasy/horror) Neil Breen is, like Gabriella Cilmi, on a mission. Almost every one of his productions has been thinly-veiled Christian propaganda, filled with heavy-handed, overt symbolism; a gratuitous helping of stock footage and PG-13 nudity (something which has faded out in his post-2013 offerings). Double Down was the first of Breen’s nigh-on inpenetrable metaphorical religious-patriotic-jingoistic supernatural thrillers. Next to Neil Breen, a hack as Tommy Wiseau comes across as soberingly, shockingly lucid in comparison. Truly, Neil Breen is the Christian wingnut reincarnation of Coleman Francis and Double Down is his The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961) for the millennial and Instagram generation. It will make you pine for the competence of Coleman Francis.

Double Down takes the concept of outsider art to whole new, previously unseen levels. This is fringe cinema taken to the utmost extreme. Neil Breen’s debut is so outré that it has to be seen to be even believed that such a thing exist. It makes for compelling viewing to see every written (and unwritten) rule of cinema broken and trampled upon. The Asylum, TomCat Films, and Kings Of Horror have better directors on average. Helming a feature film is a daunting task under any circumstance and it’s probably down to simple economics that Breen has taken to manning every department possible. As the old saying goes, just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should.

There’s something endearing about the idealism of the Neil Breen canon. Every one of his productions handles some important socio-political-economical problem and casts himself as a messianic Christ-like figure that prepares mankind for salvation. The Judeo-Christian rhetoric is a constant in every Breen production, as are trashy braless, blonde and brunette women, ostensibly many years Breen’s junior, who will shed clothes in one or more scenes, but never expose themselves. Double Down is the only truly original Neil Breen feature as I Am Here… Now (2009), Pass Thru (2016), and Twisted Pair (2018) all are loose remakes of existing older properties. Fateful Findings (2013) is a loose reimagining of Double Down even though it’s not acknowledged as such. If you’ve seen Double Down you’ve seen Fateful Findings (2013).

In the Nevada deserts a man sporting a black wifebeater, denims, and snakeskin boots clacks away at various laptops and cellphones. He is Aaron Brand (Neil Breen), a much sought-after covert operative and mercenary for the highest bidder, and he’s caught in an inter-dimensional time loop. He’s a decorated military veteran, a genius computer scientist, and a devoted husband to a loving wife (Laura Hale). One day his wife was assassinated by agents of the very government Brand had pledged his loyalty to. Brand transfers his dead wife’s consciousness into his laptops as an AI construct. In the trunk of his car he keeps her lifeless body in hopes of one day reviving her. Vowing to expose the widespread corruption of his government and bringing those responsible to justice, Brand has planned a relatively minor act of bio-terrorism in Las Vegas. That attack will function as a distraction to a much-larger coordinated act of terrorism that will bring the corrupt government to its knees. Under the threat of detonating explosives in seven strategically important cities and massive civilian casualties Brand will coerce the government into doing his bidding. While he’s preparing and putting his masterplan in motion Aaron is constantly haunted by memories of his dead wife, their shared childhood, all while he’s susceptible to periodic blackouts and sudden fits of clinical depression. Every time he blacks out he’s forced to relive a random timeline from his days as a high-ranking government agent and face his various victims.

One day he finds God (George Kerr) in a cave and is given a rock which he believes to have magical properties. A friend invites him to dinner and Brands lays hands on his friend’s daughter Megan (Alexis Fitting) to cure her of brain cancer. She dies anyway. In another hallucination, or alternate timeline, he meets the ghosts of his parents (Maynard and Rose Mahler). Endowed with near god-like powers Aaron allows the hotels on the Strip to be evacuated before he razes the den of sin and secularism to the ground. He does this in audience of the Director of the FBI (Alan Rogers), the Director of Homeland Security (Huel Washington), the Director of the CIA (Bill Frid) and a senator (Marry Taylor). It dawns upon him that all his various lived (and re-lived) timelines share a common element: Nevada. Having exorcised his demons Aaron at long last finds peace within himself. As a result the time loop is closed and Brand is returned to his own time. Now that he’s been imbued with godly powers Aaron resurrects his wife and destroys his laptops and equipment now that her construct is no longer needed. Happily reunited with the love of his life the two walk off hand in hand into the horizon. Corruption has been ended, the guilty have been punished, and Brand has been reunited with his lost Lenore. Everything is right with the world again…

Either that, or it’s about a paranoid delusional hallucinating from mercury poisoning and driving aimlessly around the Nevada desert. At this point it could be both.

Double Down spends around two-minutes on a stock footage credit montage in which exactly three credits appear: the title card, and two production lines. It then launches into a six-minute monologue that heralds a wave of near-constant stream of consciousness narration that lays out all the backstory and exposition. Not even Coleman Francis had the cojones to do that in The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961). After the credits and opening monologue it takes well over an additional ten minutes before Breen can be seen interacting with another character. Better brace yourself to hear and see Breen constantly narrating himself. Three-quarters of Double Down consists almost exclusively Breen walking and driving around the Las Vegas strip and Nevada desert accompanied by near-constant monotone narration. In a more charitable mood the randomly shoehorned in scenes with the blackouts and clinical depression could be called subtext, except that there’s no main text. Breen obviously cares about mental health and psychological well-being. He’s concerned about the way American society sees/treats the mentally ill. It’s also entirely within the realm of possibility that Neil Breen has had a relationship with one particular woman turn sour, and that he continues to long and pine for said woman. The way Breen agonizingly screams “where are you?!” is probably too melodramatic and maybe a tad too earnest in its sincerity.

It’s fascinating to see one man fumble his way through his own movie so gloriously. The Room (2003) had the good fortune of looking like a particularly deranged Friends (1994-2004) episode, Double Down for most of the time barely qualifies as a movie. That it features but two locations (the desert and the Strip) doesn’t help either. Instead of the Las Vegas of glamour and excess that the late Andy Sidaris captured so well (on similar non-existent budgets) the Las Vegas scenes with Breen are rather flat and sort of mundane in an everyday sense. Laura Hale was the first to be cast as a love interest and despite being a linchpin in the main plot her character is abstract, to say the least. Hale has a scant few lines before disappearing and hasn’t been seen again in the Breeniverse since. It’s a question where Neil keeps finding all these young actresses to appear in his productions. As with anything from Breen it ranges from mildly strange to utterly bizarre and Double Down lives up to its name that it indeed doubles down on the insanity that it promises. Fateful Findings (2013) had better production values, but this is madness unchecked. Perhaps Neil Breen imagines himself as some kind of visionary director who makes important movies. The world may never know.

Plot: young girl dabbles in black magic and summons an evil spirit

P was no doubt helmed in response to Ringu (1998), and Danny and Oxide Pang’s underappreciated The Eye (2002). P picks up where the Pang brothers left off in 2002 and is historic for being the first Thai-language film to be helmed by a Westener. The Westener in question is British expatriate Paul Spurrier and P has the good fortune of having Suangporn Jaturaphut (who would never act again) as the leading lady. The horror in P is peripheral and subordinate to the human interest, but that doesn’t make P any less effective when it fires on all of its cylinders. As a modest little genre piece P assuredly maintains Thailand’s place in the horror pantheon. More often a gritty and bleak drama about sex tourism and the criminal underworld surrounding it P is atmospheric and frightening when and where it matters. Thailand might not be able to compete with Hong Kong, China and Japan in terms of sheer numbers but P might just be strong enough to help turn the tide. No new promise has risen to take the Pang brothers’ place in domestic fright cinema but Spurrier might just be the guy.

Paul Spurrier had his start in cinema like many a young filmmaker: by taking to the streets and shooting his own feature with a bunch of enthusiastic friends. The result of that was Underground (1998), a gritty crime drama about drugdealers in London. Spurrier had acted as a child in the British-Swiss war epic The Wild Geese (1978) and at some point at the dawn of the millennium relocated to Thailand. Naturally a filmmaker is going to dabble in horror early on his or her career and what better place to mine for local folklore and superstition than Asia? Since P was only Spurrier’s second feature the most cost-efficient would be to do a ghost movie. Hong Kong, Japan, and China have set many a precedent of ghost stories within in an everyday, metropolitan setting. Instead of Hong Kong or Beijing P is set in the neon-drenched sidewalks of Bangkok. Perhaps not as much of an indictment of sex tourism as we would like it is a lot stronger than much coming out of China. Not only because P actually manages to be frightening every once in a whlie, mostly because the sobering reality surrounding the supernatural tale at its center is as horrific, if not moreso, than its titular ghost.

Just like in China ghosts are part of everyday life in Thailand. Most of them come from a combination of Thai Buddhism and local folklore legends. Some of these came from the neighboring Cambodian, Lao, and Malay cultures. Others were adopted later through the Chinese community in Thailand. Interestingly, a large portion of ghosts from Thai folklore tend to be nocturnal, a few exceptions notwithstanding. Most ghosts in Thai culture are benevolent and many have built shrines in specific places exactly for that reason. Offerings (usually incense, small food items, drinks, or fruit) are made to appease the spirits and ghosts for good fortune and it’s considered an ill omen to neglect a ghost shrine. In Dan Sai, Loei Province a three-day event called Phi Ta Khon (ผีตาโขน or Bun Luang) is held annually, usually between March and July, to honor the spirits. The most recognizable to Western eyes is the Phi Song Nang (ผีสองนาง), a Thai version of the Chinese Nü gui or the ghost of a beautiful woman that lures, seduces and then kills hapless men. The titular P refers to Pee or Pii (ผี), the Thai word for ghost. The Pii here is the Phi pop (ผีปอบ), a cannibalistic witch spirit popular in Thai folklore that tends leaves the witch’s body when she’s in a dormant state to feed on the intestines of whoever she victimizes. To Western eyes the Phi pop comes across as a combination of the vengeful ghost (onryō) from Japan and the shape-shifting fox spirit (húli jīng) with its carnivorous proclivities popular in Chinese folklore and superstition.

In Lower Isan in the northeastern region of Thailand in Si Saket province lives a young orphan Khmer girl named Aaw (Suangporn Jaturaphut) with her ailing, superstitious grandmother (Pisamai Pakdeevijit). To protect herself grandmother has initiated Aaw in the ways of Khmer black magic. All she has to do is obey the three sacred rules. No longer able to treat grandmother’s deterioriating health with the medicine she’s able to procure in her peasant village in the valley of the Mun River on the border with Cambodia Aaw is forced to seek employment in Bangkok. In Bangkok Aaw is picked up by Pookie (Opal) and before long harsh reality sets in. She’ll be working as a go-go dancer in the Pbar where she’ll be servicing foreign clients. Before that Mamasang (Manthana Wannarod) changes her name to Dau and she will broken into her new employment by bar owner Martin (Paul Spurrier). A bitter rivalry develops between Dau and club favorite May (Narisara Sairatanee) with the latter’s accomplices Mee (Amy Siriya) and New (Supatra Roongsawang) trying to sabotage her at every turn. In her darkest hour Dau turns to her grandmother’s black magic to help turn her fortune. As she sinks deeper into destitution and prostitution Dau breaks the three sacred rules one by one. Will anybody be able to stop the evil that Dau has summoned?

It would be something of a misnomer to call P an exploitation movie as it never is very exploitative to begin with. Even though it concerns itself with sex tourism, prostitution, and go-go dancers everything in P stays within the realms of the respectable. The most risqué, if it can be called that, is the sapphic tryst between Aaw/Dau and Pookie – but P goes well out of its way not to make a thing out of it. The go-go dancing sequences are usually sexier than the implied prostitution scenes that precede a kill. Where P really shines is in the ways it finds to creatively kill Johns on a limited budget. First and foremost P is a human interest drama and the supernatural – and horror elements are tangential and secondary to that. When P does focus on the horror it follows the conventions of the ghost horror subgenre without ever rocking the boat. Where it really gets interesting is how it treats the exorcism scene. Instead of a typical exorcism the purging of Dau’s demon bears more of a resemblance to a drugs withdrawal scene. Far more troubling is that P isn’t really all that interested in offering social commentary on the political machinations behind the circumstances in which it forces its lead character. Spurrier acknowledges that sex tourism and coerced prostitution do exist, but seems to be in no apparent hurry to make or take a stance either way. P is a horror where the unflinchingly bleak picture of modern day Bangkok is often more frightening, especially when the neon signs come on, than the ghost at its center.

Greatly adding to the mystique of P is a tour de force performance of Suangporn Jaturaphut. That Aaw/Dau mirrors Jaturaphut’s own life experiences so closely greatly adds to the authenticity of P. Suangporn also grew up under-privileged and disenfranchised in the slums of Bangkok and only took to acting as a means to pay for her ill mother’s mounting medical expenses. Her mother saw to it that she went to school and got herself an education as to not fall into the ever-looming threat of prostitution. In the decade-plus since P Suangporn has enrolled in Assumption University and eventually received her B.A. in Chinese for Business. Little is known what became of Jaturaphut post-B.A. but it’s safe to assume that she simply disappeared in the anonomity of everyday civilian life. She appears to not have disavowed her involvement in P in the years since but it’s unlikely that we will ever see Suangporn on the big screen again. Director Paul Spurrier has since worked as a cinematographer on the television series Edge of the Empire (2010), helmed his third feature The Forest (2016) and the television series Eullenia (2018-present). In other words, Spurrier has naturally become part of the Thai cinematic landscape.

Thailand has long been the mecca of cheap action and in the last couple of years has been making a comeback in terms of horror. While not as visible as China, Hong Kong, and Japan since the 2000s the country is steady on the rise again. P was unlike, say, the preceding year’s The Sisters (2004) not nearly as blatantly imitative of Ringu (1998), Ju-on: The Grudge (2002), and South Korea’s A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003). While ghost movies like Shutter (2004) and the Art Of the Devil (2004-2008) franchise are staples in Thai, it’s movies like Meat Grinder (2009) that prove that Thailand has come a long way since Universal monster romps The Wolf Girl (1977) and Werewolf (1987). Like the best Asian horror P draws from rich local folklore and superstition and coupled with Spurrier’s almost documentary-like gaze it makes P an atmospheric little ditty. Anybody remotely familiar with Asian ghost horror will find nothing novel here, and just like Verónica (2017) and We Are Not Alone (2016) it was quietly released on Netflix. P was not going to revitalize the ghost subgenre, but it deserved better than that.