"I like the feeling that the sea isn’t judging me. I just look at it and it just looks at me."

"Strange. It judges me all the time…"

Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, of arthouse romancer Monrak Transistor fame, returns with this bizarre yet understated thriller. Invisible Waves unfolds like a surreal film noir, a cross between Jim Jarmusch and Luis Bunuel, with its combination of laid-back pacing and increasing levels of absurdity that are filmed in a matter-of-fact manner.

Koji is on a mission and on the run to Phuket. His orders, and part of his money, given to him by a suspiciously injured not-quite-a-monk at a modest shrine. The rest of the money is to be provided at his destination. But his journey is not to be an easy one as the cruise ship "Universal Cruise" proves to be an existential Hell on the waves. Koji’s curse is that he killed goodtime girl Seiko on behalf of her mobster husband, and now has to lie low "on vacation". Unfortunately for Koji, it was he who was dallying with Seiko all along…

The basic premise of a crime gang employee being asked to sort out a "problem" that their boss is (initially) unaware they actually instigated is a well worn one, but in Invisible Waves this is merely a MacGuffin on which to peg Koji’s increasingly irrational spiral into his own heart of darkness. What is so striking is the way that Ratanaruang mixes hazy eroticism, a thriller plot and an examination of the pettiness of everyday life in a mix of the bizarre and the mundane that is so relentlessly hip it hurts.

Enhancing the inherent, casual surrealism of events in the film is Christopher Doyle’s almost effortlessly silky cinematography. At times the camera seems to drift over proceedings with lazy interest, mirroring the invisible waves of the film’s title by lapping slowly at the characters. Careful use of framing, often focusing away from faces help create a sense of distance and isolation, with long, long takes of dissected bodies leaving the viewer part voyeur, part claustrophobic collaborator. The naturalistic look of the film and the use of long shots, contrary to accepted wisdom, make the whole seem detached from reality, as though in a dreamlike state. In this environment even the trappings of normal life take on a monstrous edge of portent.

Koji is being punished for his sins by an increasing number of incidents that swiftly escalate. His cruise journey does not begin well – initially given the wrong cabin, he then finds himself facing intermittent lighting, dodgy taps and a fold-out bed that refuses to fold out. Giving up he goes for a night-time stroll around the virtually empty boat that, at times, feels like it has come out of a David Lynch film with its bass rumbles and sporadic strobe lighting. These events are absurdly funny, rather than being played out as slapstick, as Koji accepts his fate with doomed inevitability. When eventually he comes across someone it’s the morbid, vaguely spaced out Noi, who looks like she’s just wandered in from a Wong Kar-Wai movie. Matters in his cabin go from bad to worse as more appliances go awry and he finds himself locked in. Koji begins to wish it will all end. However when he reaches Phuket he realises his journey has just began.

Although filled with incident Invisible Waves is deliberate in its slow pace that belies a complex linear structure and a fragmented narrative that initially feels like a series of road movie-style incidents but eventually comes to represent Koji’s disjointed psyche and self-loathing. Despite an extended death scene that could be deemed exploitative, the film’s detached camera and languid aesthetic style ensure that it remains firmly in the realm of the arthouse. A strange blend of genres that engages the viewer with its laid-back attitude and generic thriller conventions.

Invisible Waves Region 2 DVD is out now on Tartan Video.Please follow the links provided to buy a copy and support Kamera by doing so.