MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: John Hsu
Starring: Gingle Wang, Men-Po Fu, Jin-Hua Tseng
Runtime: 1 hr 42 mins
What It Is: In the midst of The White Terror in which Taiwan suffered oppressive martial law by means of “preventing/destroying communism,” a group of students and two of their teachers decide to risk their lives in educating themselves through free thought and creativity. We find ourselves with Wei, one of the students as he is being tortured into confessing the source of where he and his cohorts had acquired banned books. Taking place in his immersive nightmare full of disorienting horrors within a decrepit version of his old school, he forced to find his will to go on despite great losses and indignities brought upon a fascist government.
What We Think: For those of you not yet aware, this is actually an adaption from the amazing 2017 horror side-scroller video game Detention, also a very keen, emotional, heartbreaking, yet much more eerie and terrifying work of art that I highly, highly recommend.
Being that this film came as a surprise as I had no idea the game was being adapted, I went in immediately enamored with this connection, hoping it could live up to this namesake. Luckily, I can say with absolute love and confidence that it does, making it one of my favorite video-game adaptations next to Silent Hill (the first not… DEFINITELY not Revelations). That being said, this film bears some spiritual similarity to works such as SH or the SH games (as does the original video game does as well): you can expect some wild psychological horror and haunting visuals that will tyrannize your mind after you’ve seen it, which is just as well as the message of the film rings incredibly dark, emotional, and forewarning for it taking place during a real-time in history and how that physically, emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically affected the people who were trapped within that very real collective nightmare. This film is dripping with intention as well as different levels of tension between the horror and the drama that balance each other out: you are legitimately racked by the toll that this military state has taken on these characters, forcing you to experience the same discomfort and sadness between moments of gore and exasperation.
So I’m speaking quite a bit about its delivery: how does it stand in its elements? Also strong. The cast is amazing, their faces will be ones you won’t soon forget as they conceive sympathetic, flawed characters that you see move forward with more and more depth as the risk of conflict and consequence grows more and more immediate in their already lonely lives. The cinematography is lovely, lending several fan-service nods to the game by mirroring certain shots in which you actually play the game (which was an amazing feeling) as well perfectly frames each moment in expressive greens, blues, and reds. The production design is grimy and atmospheric, perfectly reflecting the turmoil of the characters and the state of their country while staying again perfectly committed to the inflections of its source and building up its themes. My only critiques are that some of the soundtracks could be a bit too overbearing, or rather, emphatic, which was a bit disruptive tonally, and a lot of the CG is what you would expect from a 95 million NT / 3 million USD budget: it’s there and you can lean into it, but you can definitely tell it’s animated. Nonetheless and thankfully it doesn’t cut into the experience or the immersion too much.
Our Grade: B+, What a fantastic and slightly devastating watch; what was smart about this and makes both this and the game and works like it so brilliant and successful is that they don’t wear just one hat. It is a horror movie, it colors a dark history with humanity and clarification, it’s a thriller-drama, it’s psychological, and interestingly thematically relevant… I love all of it and will be highly recommending it to my fellow psych-horror fans. While it won’t be the scariest thing you’ve seen, its subtext surfaced by the disturbing, grisly surrealism and emotional personality makes it all the more potent in this keen adaptation.