One for all y’all who like your prolonged torture scenes (and you are out there): "Art of the Devil 2," a sequel in name only, is a Thai cautionary tale about the dangers of black magic (which go something like "once you pop, you just can’t stop"). A group of Bangkok college students take a trip back to their rural hometown, while in flashbacks we learn that two years ago they managed to get one of their teachers, the beautiful Ms. Panor, fired for having an affair with the school coach. When they pay her a visit, it seems at first that all is forgiven, but clearly it’s not, and Ms. Panor has been spending the last two years learning black magic in order to punish all those who wronged her by boiling off their faces, making them into curry and inducing lizards to claw their way out of their backs. Written and directed by a young collective who call themselves "The Ronin Team," "Arc of the Devil 2" plays largely like a Thai version of any recent torture porn flick, with a few nice plot twists playing with our sympathies as the film progresses.
Equally dark in atmosphere and in some ways more disturbing, "Blood Rain" is a sleek, smart Korean historical drama set in the early 1800s on an island famous for its paper-making. Along with a gruesome murder, the annual tribute intended for the king was set on fire, and a group of officials, headed up by Lee Won-kyu, are sent from the capital to sort things out. More killings occur over the next few days, and as Lee digs frantically into the history of the island, chasing down a motive for the killer and uncovering a grim secret related to his own family, the locals turn back to shamanism and superstition to protect themselves. Beneath the lush costuming and sets, "Blood Rain" hides in its heart a conspicuously bleak assessment of humanity and its thin veneer of civilization.
"Art of the Devil 2" screens tonight and June 19 at the Anthology; "Blood Rain" screens tonight and June 24, also at the Anthology.