My pandemic-era deep dive into worldwide shows available to stream in the United States has yielded some occasional standout entries, and none of them has quite had the same stick-to-your-ribs quality as GIRL FROM NOWHERE, a Thai production presently available on Netflix. Before I say another word, I ought to mention right up front that GIRL is a suspense/horror series and more than occasionally it gets both violent and graphic. So anybody even thinking about trying it out ought to go in braced for that eventuality. For me, I found it a fascinating show, for all that suspense/horror really isn’t a preferred genre. But there’s something about these stories and this presentation that I found compelling, in particular throughout its first season. (There are presently two.)
The titular Girl From Nowhere is called Nanno–no last name is ever given, and we learn very little about who and what she is throughout the course of the series. GIRL is an anthology, with each episode being a stand-alone entry during the first season (with the exception of a pair of two-part outings.) The second season began to try to build out some ongoing mythology–but we’ll get to that later.
Every episode of GIRL FROM NOWHERE functions in the same way: It’s partway through the school year at a random Thai High School, and Nanno joins the class as a late transfer student. But there’s something sinister going on beneath the surface of the seemingly sedate school, something that has drawn Nanno to that particular spot. Because Nanno isn’t quite human. No specifics are ever given, but it’s clear from context that Nanno is a supernatural entity of retribution that is drawn to loci of human weakness, where she sets off on a path that leads those around her into self-destruction. Nanno never takes direct violent action against her assorted prey herself–rather, she tempts and prods their weaknesses of character until events spiral out of their control and they are caught up in a whirlwind of lies revealed, secrets laid bare, and typically, bloody violence enacted. Nanno herself is passively immortal–she can be killed, stabbed, shot, beaten to a bloody pulp or mangled, and she just pops up again, good as new, ready to single-mindedly continue her dogged pursuit of whatever deviant has crossed her path. Why does she do this? We never get even the slightest insight.
Apparently, the stories in GIRL FROM NOWHERE are all extrapolated from actual events that happened in genuine schools in Thailand at one point or another, situations typically where a young woman or women were victimized in some way. While not a direct one-to-one correlation, this allows GIRL to function as a cathartic assurance of karmic justice, where such justice may have proven elusive in the real world. You don’t root for Nanno so much as you root against those who have come into her line of sight, waiting for the inevitable moment when their own vanity, greed, selfishness, pride or envy will cause them to take a single step too far–and then it will be too late for them.
Like in an episode of COLUMBO, the fun in GIRL isn’t so much in wondering about who committed the crime, it’s more about savoring the slow build as Nanno draws her targets in deeper and deeper, and the inexorability that it will all end in tears and blood. All that said, Nanno isn’t a hero per se–right and wrong, good and evil don’t appear to have any bearing to what she does. She’s more like a force of nature, one that is drawn to human weakness and that delights in both revealing it and annihilating it. Nanno seems on the surface like a cheerful young girl, but she is not your friend, and you will be crushed on the rocks should you enter her orbit, no matter how much of an advantage you might appear to have in terms of money, prestige, power or authority. She’s a fucking demon girl.
So much of what makes GIRL FROM NOWHERE compelling rides on the shoulders of Chicha Amatayakui, who plays Nanno. As the series is an anthology, Nanno is the only recurring character in it (at least until the second season) and so it is the sinister appeal of Amatayakui that makes the whole thing work. She is incredibly skilled at striking the perfect note of a coiled snake prepared to strike, her studied indifference to what is going on around her merely prelude to the inevitable moment in each episode where things get crazy and she begins to cackle in one of the most memorably demented laughs ever recorded. She is really the glue that holds this whole production together, and her ability to simply smile with sinister intent is completely chilling.
As I mentioned earlier, I feel like the first season is more successful than the second. The second begins to attempt to build out a season-long storyline through the introduction of Yuri, a second Girl From Nowhere. Yuri, it turns out, was one of Nanno’s prior targets, but though she was killed when her own schemes and aspirations backfired upon her, she wound up inadvertently drinking some of Nanno’s blood, which had the effect of transforming her into a similar immortal creature. Yuri functions for most of the season as a mystery, an unseen player who throws wrinkles into Nanno’s plans, but as soon as she’s revealed on camera, the balance of the episodes gets thrown a bit out of whack, and the beautiful simplicity of these revenge and comeuppance stories is tainted by the added complications of Yuri’s moves within each one against Nanno. I suppose the fear was that the format itself would have grown stale if it was nothing more than revenge tale after revenge tale, but at least for me, I kind of found myself wishing that Yuri would simply go away, and that we could get back to the elemental purity of Nanno as an avenging force.
It must be said: these stories are dark as hell, dealing with strong topics that belie the youthful ages of most of their protagonists. It’s strong stuff, and not for the feint of heart. But if you wanted a relatively safe place to come in and try an episode, I would recommend “True Love”, the second episode of Season Two. It’s both the most bloodless entry in the GIRL FROM NOWHERE canon and it also has one of the best twist/reversals of the series. It concerns a storied girls’ academy that is forced to go co-ed by budgetary necessity, and the stern headmistress who previously saw to the purity of her students and who is now horrified at the thought of them co-mingling with boys. Nanno, of course, enters this volatile situation and immediately begins to push against the strict gender segregation rules, with typical though surprising results. It has about as happy an ending as any episode of GIRL FROM NOWHERE is allowed to have.