Color, 2019, 102 mins. 54 secs.
Directed by John Hsu
Starring Gingle Wang, Fu Meng-Po, Tse Jing-Hua, Cecilia Choi
Dekanalog (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Using the horror genre to comment on a country's history, especially its human rights atrocities, is a practice as old as storytelling itself. However, film offers a unique outlet to mix story, image, and sound together to drive the point home like no other medium, something you can find in countries from Japan to Mexico. Enter Detention, a 2019 film offering a supernatural take on Taiwan's brutal, decades-long White Terror, specifically here in the early '60s.
Inspired by a video game no less, the film is best viewed as cold as possible (and most synopses out there give away far too much). However, what can be said is that it takes place at a school where an underground, forbidden book club has been formed in an environment of martial law where everyone is encouraged to rat out anyone acting or speaking outside of the authoritarian government's constraints. Fang (Gingle Wang) is infatuated with one of the teachers in the club and her counselor, Zhang (Fu Meng-Po), while she in turn is the object of affection for one of the members, Wei (Tse Jing-Hua). When Fang and Wei find themselves stuck in the school during a seemingly endless night without any fellow students or teachers around, they're forced to confront not only apparitions lurking around every corner but the horrifying nature of what their world has done to humanity itself.
Richly textured and even emotional when it ultimately pays off, Detention is beautifully mounted by director John Hsu (apart from a little of that ongoing Achilles' heel of many recent horror films, dodgy CGI), with many scenes effectively using candlelight to both reveal and conceal its multitude of physical and psychological terrors. Equally noteworthy is the sound mix, a delightfully manipulative concoction with lots of directional effects designed to keep you looking over your shoulder. The film takes a bit of effort since it doesn't give a ton of character development right off the bat, instead creating a paranoid atmosphere that only starts to peel away and reveal the real human core of its story in gradual layers as the film moves along.
Dekanalog, a partner label to Vinegar Syndrome through OCN Distribution, released Detention to Region A Blu-ray in early 2022 with a limited 2,500-unit embossed slipcover edition. The film itself looks as immaculate as you'd expect with the predominantly dark scenes still looking rich and razor sharp throughout; the Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1 track (with optional English subtitles) is very effective with strong channel separation and sometimes terrifying bass levels. Also included are three featurettes: "Port of Origin: Adapting Detention" (5m52s) with Vincent Yang, Coffee Yao, and Doy Chiang explaining the rare and challenging process of transforming a video game into a movie; "Return to Greenwood High: Making Detention" (6m26s) featuring a slew of making-of footage set to the film's score; and "The Visual Effects of Detention" (9m30s) showing how the game's more chilling creations could be transposed to the screen with computers. Also included are the theatrical trailer and a short Lei Kuang Hsia music video, "The Day of Light," as well as an insert liner notes booklet.
Reviewed on January 7, 2021.