Sunday, March 19, 2006

Dorm (Dek Hor)

It was quite uncanny, a group of us were discussing making a movie about ghost stories told in schools. Sure, every school has its fair share of ghouls and goblins, and we'd thought it was interesting to have it done on film. Heck, we were actually in the premises of a school when we started to talk about it at night too. So imagine our surprise that Thailand actually made it first, and screened in local theatres no more than a month after we discussed.

Dorm refers to the dormitory of an all boys boarding school. Chatree (Charlie Trairattana) gets sent to the school by his parents, against his wishes. I believe almost everyone would be familiar with the feeling of being uprooted from one school to go to another (be it upon graduation or otherwise), where there's a sense of loss somewhat, especially with friends.

As with all new schools, the new kid on the block gets treated with suspicion, and he finds it extremely difficult to integrate into the school. It doesn't help that his initial gang of friends harbours thoughts of going all out to scare Chatree with many ghosts stories about the school (I could've sworn the toilet one was familiar territory, because I encountered something similar before), and making matters worst, the teacher (Jintara Sukphat) also becomes a key character in one of these stories, hence making Chatree wary.

Despite being the social outcast, and a recluse, Chatree befriends another pupil, Wichien (Sirarath Jianthaworn). They become fast friends, but Wichien has a deep dark secret come 6pm everyday, when he disappears. By now, you would've guessed what would happen.

Along the way, this movie somehow forgotten that it was supposed to be a horror movie. That, or the marketing folks have gotten it all wrong in promoting this flick. The horror genre is undoubtedly an extremely popular genre in Asia, one that will put folks into cinema seats, and riding on the wave of Shutter's success, it's easy to get caught up in what essential are the few and far between sense of fright that's packed into the trailer. Be warned, halfway through the movie, the horrifying moments get thrown out the window, and Dorm becomes more of a standard fare mystery. Quite a plain one actually, as the narrative gets stuck in cruise control throughout. You'll be able to guess the ending, and plot devices are thrown in only to help the movie proceed to the following scene.

But there's a fun element thrown in, which I thought was quite neat. Fans of Hong Kong horror cinema would clearly identify the "Mr Vampire" remake in Dorm, where the students congregate for one of their night movie screenings. It's a deliberate cheesy remake, but I felt this was one of the more powerful scenes that snuck up on you, incorporating the twist revelation so well, I give it the thumbs up. And yes, the twist is revealed midway through the movie in this scene, and thereafter, "horror" gets forgotten.

How's the horrifying content earlier in the movie you ask? It's not all that frightening, again relying on cheap tricks like musical crescendos to make you jump. You don't get to see much, except for shadows, sudden movements and closeups (hey, if I can survive this, so can you!). If I had a gripe, it would be with Chatree's hair continuity problem. Unless there's a barber in the school who cuts hair as good as he restores them, you'll probably get perturbed by the changes in Chatree's hair length. In the same scene. Talking to the same person. You get the drift. It's rather sloppy filmmaking, and the continuity person ought to get shot. The special effects department though, gets my thumbs up for its imaginary swimming pool effects. Really cool stuff there.

Horror aside, this film essentially similar to like M Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, though it doesn't dwell as deep into the psyche of Chatree and the spirit. It works on another level, along the themes of friendship, sacrifice, forgiveness and closure. I'd recommend it, not as a horror movie, but a coming of age one.

P.S. the version shown here rated PG, is the censored version. Not because of anything frightening, but for a sex scene, which I thought was quite pivotal to identify who it was Chatree's father was humping. Edited away, it comes across as "so what's the big deal?"

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