A group of Thai soldiers have come down with cases of sleep poisoning en masse. Their listless days are played out in a makeshift hospital that’s been set up inside an old schoolhouse. Their shared malady might have something to do with a nearby archaeological dig where some sort of unseen force has awakened. But the world around them is anything but dark, despite the nightmares their restless minds might be experiencing. They are looked after by the hospital’s rather easy-going staff, represented primarily by the kindly Jen (Jenjira Pongpas Widner), a nurse who has one leg that’s ten centimetres longer than the other. Also aiding the hospital in their investigations and on-hand to keep the families of the soldiers at ease is a psychic medium (Jarinpattra Rueangram) who’s normally brought in by law enforcement agencies to help investigate tough-to-solve mysteries. The two women bond and discuss the world around them while the married Jen begins a relatively harmless infatuation with one of her patients (Banlop Lomnoi).

Cemetery of Splendour, the latest from Thai auteur Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul, comes with plenty of darkness around the margins, but almost none that can be seen with the naked eye. It’s part mystery, part allegory of Thailand’s past and future, and on the whole, a contemplative meditation on the things that we either can’t see or choose to ignore. There’s a certain degree of melancholy and latent malevolence to be sure, but Weerasethakul’s most audience accessible and straightforward film to date is also brimming with hope and wonder. It’s still as lyrical, elliptical and purposefully ponderous as his more recent works like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Mekong Hotel. It isn’t meant to be a plot-driven affair or even an art house experiment. It’s an immersive, contemplative experience that urges the audience to be more aware of the world around them.

The film isn’t exactly an open endorsement of the metaphysical or spiritual, although there’s a decidedly playful element of magical realism. It also might be Weerasethakul’s funniest and smartest film, with subtly good-natured jabs at gentrification, pop culture and big business, amid some serious, thought-provoking subtext involving Thailand’s military past.

Working digitally for the first time on a feature film alongside noteworthy Mexican cinematographer Diego García, Weerasethakul also delivers his most visually and aurally striking effort to date. The hospital in and of itself is nondescript except for some occasionally creative lighting, and yet every detail of it pops vibrantly to life, while the impeccable but noticeably well mixed sound design makes even the simplest of breezes through a window feel like it could actually be happening.

It’s a striking dramatic, technical, and most importantly, artistic achievement from one of the best filmmakers in the world today.