Thailand's GTH has been building a horror pedigree in Singapore, and Sophon Sakdaphisit, who co-wrote familiar, popular titles such as Shutter and Alone, writes and directs his second film Laddaland. You may not be too impressed with his first feature debut Coming Soon, but Laddaland is a very curious, different kettle of fish altogether, as the premise doesn't seem to stem from the usual conventions, and to my surprise, is actually a tale about family rather than one going outright to scare, but not that it doesn't.
This is a tale of a supposedly happy family that goes all dysfunctional, breaking down as the story wears on. Dad Thee (Saharat Sangkapreecha) decides to uproot his family from Bangkok to get away from his overbearing mother-in-law, getting a new job that you know for sure will run into trouble for its pyramid sales strategy, but for the immediate term goals, is sufficient to provide a downpayment for a swanky new house in a gated community in Chiang Rai. Wife Pran (Piyathida Woramuksik) leaves her job too to become a full time housewife, while
Stripped of all its horror elements, Laddaland is a family drama through and through, which deals with the relationship between parents and children, disciplining or the lack thereof, teenage angst and rebellion, the necessity of a steady stream of income to keep the family going, and the mantra of living within one's means. In essence it's like the classic dramatic film coming from Japanese horror meister Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata which was sans horror, save for that in which we go on the self inflicted, destructive path of familial disintegration, which is frightful in itself. Some scenes in Laddaland do bear slight resemblance to those in Kurosawa's film though.
But that aside, audiences are going to lap this up for its horror elements, so the usual jump scares and quick cuts, creaking noises, fleeting shadows across the screen, creepy black cat, cameras capturing more than it should, building of anticipation and the usual tools of the trade all get their fair share of screen time. Blood and gore got amped through very excellent make up, amongst the best I've seen in an Asian horror film, with faces caved in, and wounds sustained that would probably even make the seasoned medical professional blush.
The novelty factor though is that the hauntings rarely, and this is something unique here, rarely happen in Thee's home, save for an impish kid who was probably invited to stay and play by Thee's son. Otherwise most of the hauntings happen in other homes in the gated community, and we get to see the ghouls and spirits, such as the Burmese maid whose disfigured body was found in a refrigerator, and others best kept under wraps lest it spoils any surprise, only when characters decide to be smart about things, and go into them. Meaning the ghouls don't go all out to look for trouble, but the humans themselves who do, out of curiosity or silly dares. And like a run of bad luck too when you happen to buy property in an estate that has a series of inexplicable, or gory deaths, that affects property prices, as well as the community who start to move out in droves, leaving behind only those who can't, or are nonchalant about it.
For a horror film, formula will dictate that root causes to someone's haunting or turning into spirits become the narrative path, together with the hunt for possible suspects responsible for some heinous crime committed, but Laddaland abandons this for a stronger family focus, making this a little schizophrenic at times, building toward a very chilling, moodily atmospheric climax that will keep you at the edge of your seat, and finally feel for the family, and not whether you've gotten your money's worth to get scared in the cinema. Sophon Sakdaphisit had a strong dramatic story going, and that is the real gem indeed.