Detention (返校, 2019)
Director (and co-writer): John Hsu
Cast: Gingle Wang, Chin-Hua Tseng, Meng-Po Fu, Cecilia Choi
Detention is an adaptation of independent video game of the same name developed by Red Candle Games which sets their story in Taiwan 1962 during the White Terror times when rules under martial law, all ideas considered dissendent is banned. In Tsuihua High School, two teachers have grouped together to create a secret underground literary club despite the close watch of the military police. Senior Fang wakes up alone in the classroom and realizes the school is no longer the same. As she searches for the teacher Zhang, she ends up joining up with a fellow student Wei. They can’t remember why they are at the school or how they got there but they continue their search. As they go further, they start encountering ghosts and monsters and their memory starts coming back as to what has happened.
Video game adaptations usually get a lot of harsh criticism. Detention is a unique premise. As a gamer, this game has been on my to-play list for a while and yet haven’t had time to give it a go yet. Going into this movie blind is a good idea though as the story unfolds like the layers of an onion. It flips between the present and the past from what goes on in Fang and Wei’s perspective respectively and separated neatly in chapters. How the other characters come into the equation and what happens with the military police and the underground club while having the mystery of why these ghosts and monsters are suddenly showing up and what has happened to this school. The story unfolds one layer at a time that adds helps build its intrigue as each side of the story has their own twist and their own secrets to reveal between young crushes, fighting for freedom and doing is what is right.
Detention is heavily focused on the atmosphere. The school setting with the growing thunderstorm outside adds to the gloomy and dark atmosphere. Being set during the night creates the ambiance and also cleverly uses the lighting to its advantage. At one part, there is a play on the concept of reality and nightmare. As the story unravels, the different nightmare elements come into play using some horror tropes that actually are executed in an effective way. It has a fair share of jump scares which are mostly effective but also manages to create a quiet and subtle environment that makes it more intense. Its because of these moments that the subtle sounds like repetitive clinking coin sounds or the off screen sound effects of something happening becomes more unnerving as its part of the unseen element. The monster reveal also doesn’t happen all in one shot and is slowly revealed from one scene to the next but when revealed has a good design as well. Kudos to some great visual cues used.
Overall, Detention is a pretty good movie. As a video game adaptation, the story feels well-executed and paced really good. The atmosphere and tone is helped by the setting. Its story showcases a part of Taiwanese history while sharing a coming-of-age story as well as a little bit of romance in the background with themes of freedom and oppression. Everything is well balanced and the thrills of the story does happen as Fang and Wei slowly find back their own memories of how they got there. They are flawed in their own ways while also pulling in a family element that affects who they are as well. Full of twists and turns as well-constructed environment and atmosphere while delivering both subtle tension and effective jump scares, Detention is a great horror film taking its characters on a trip between reality, the past and nightmare to piece everything together.