When he finishes his upcoming psychological thriller, “Mind Cage,” Indian director Amit Dubey says he hopes local audiences will be entertained by their first taste of a genre new to Cambodia.
“Mind Cage”—Mr. Dubey’s first full-length feature—focuses on the clash between a psychiatrist and a rural traditional healer, or “krou Khmer,” after the Phnom Penh-based doctor arrives in the healer’s village for a funeral and happens upon a young girl receiving a violent ritual treatment for mental illness.
“Mental health is one of the themes of the movie but it’s more like a thriller,” the 34-year-old filmmaker said late last month while his 15-person crew—all but one of whom is Cambodian—buzzed about a villa near Phnom Penh International Airport, tweaking the set and fixing makeup between scenes.
“It’s the modern versus the old,” Mr. Dubey said. “[The psychiatrist] happens to go to the countryside for one of his patient’s funerals and he runs into Mony, who is the krou Khmer, and he sees this ritual happening and intervenes.”
The intervention by Sarin, played by Keo Ratha, leads to “a loss of face” for Mony, played by Ruos Mony, and villagers quickly turn against the healer for his unnecessarily harsh treatment of the girl.
“They throw him in this cage—we got this huge cage built—then they hang him from a tree in the cage,” Mr. Dubey said.
After a few more plot twists, Mony travels to Phnom Penh, set on exacting revenge on Sarin and his family.
“Bad things start to happen slowly and slowly,” Mr. Dubey said, driving a wedge between Sarin—“a man of science”—and his wife, Vanny, played by Sveng Socheata, who believes in the spiritual world.
“So when bad things start to happen in the house, she thinks it’s because of the dead patient, bad energy, and he doesn’t buy that,” the director said. “They start to have a falling out.”
On set last month, the crew was filming a scene in which Mony torments Sarin’s daughter by shaving off her eyebrows, terrifying the psychiatrist’s wife.
Mr. Mony, the actor who portrays the krou Khmer, said that while the thriller genre was new to him, he enjoyed its realism, relying on Mr. Dubey for guidance.
“The actor is like a vegetable and the director is like the chef. The good taste of the sour soup…depends on the chef.”
While the film—shot on a budget of about $35,000—revolves around the dichotomy of the traditional, spiritual world of the healer and the empirical, scientific world of the psychiatrist, Mr. Dubey is quick to point out that the purpose of the film is not to cast judgment or make a statement on the efficacy of one type of treatment compared to another.
“I’m creating more of a character who does bad things rather than sending out a message,” he said, referring to Mony.
“There are treatments that are violent, there are treatments that are not violent and they work and, you know, people believe and sometimes it’s the belief that makes them feel better.”
Shooting on the film wrapped up last week, and Mr. Dubey said Wednesday that “Mind Cage” had now entered the post-production stage, with plans to enter it into film festivals early next year.
The director said that he was not sure how a psychological thriller would be received by local audiences.
“There’s a lot of ghost movies and stuff, so there’s always that, but there is nothing like a psychological thriller,” he said. “So this is a different sort of genre…. Let’s see what happens.”
“Maybe they like it because it does have some scary moments —but it is not ‘ghost’ scary, this is ‘human’ scary.”