Dorm (US - DVD R1)
Gabe is so relieved that the film doesn't feature a ghost girl he gives it a pass...
Chatree has been transferred to an all-boys boarding school against his will. Chatree is bullied by his peers with ghost stories, the headmistress is cold towards him, and he has no friends or family to confide in. Eventually he befriends another social outcast named Wichien. They become fast friends and things look bright, until the day he finds that his new friend has a deep dark secret.
I really don't set out to be bored by the uncannily similar Asian horror features I get from Tartan every month, but they really start to burn a guy out after a while. Dorm was a relief. It doesn't follow all the post- Ringu specifics to the point of boredom. Whew.
This isn't to say the film is terribly original, but it's an effective enough mix of non-Asian ghost story standbys. There are a few obvious choices when drawing parallels to other films. There's Suspiria, which isn't the first film to depict the trials and tribulations of dormitory life, but as far as I know it was the first to stick traditional horror into the mix (feel free to prove me wrong). The non-horror stuff is the usual mix of Stephen King coming of age tale and a less upsetting version of Lord of the Flies, with boys being boys, some of it genuinely funny. It's good to know that school life sucks no matter what country you grow up in.
Stylistically the film has a European and American laced flavour, though it's still content to exploit plenty of the Asian horror film mainstays like water, white irises, and crashing musical cues during jump scares (I swear these films even use the same chord). At its best it feels a bit like Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone, minus the subtext, or The Sixth Sense, minus the novelty.
One thing Dorm does better than the majority of ghost stories I've seen (Asian based or otherwise) is capture that creepy crawly, pit of your stomach kind of fear most children experience when they're forced to visit a dark bathroom in the middle of the night, or any other similarly traumatizing everyday experience. I'm so jaded by horror features at this point the feeling didn't really stick with me, but the susceptible will likely be shivering for quite some time after the scary scene has subsided.
I appreciate the film's structure, which often feels like a series of set-pieces (like Suspiria, I'm not going to kid myself), but ends up being an organically unravelling story. This is what's needed to keep the genre from continuing to stagnate.
What the genre doesn't need is a slow-motion, Thai-pop sequence. When the threat is softened the whole tale takes too strong a detour into the whole '80s coming-of-age tale territory. I liked that I was surprised by the film's later half tone, but I was also enjoying the fact that I was genuinely creeped out by the scary stuff. If Tartan hadn't presented the flick as a horror flick the film's real feel would've been easier to accept. As a fantasy/drama with some horror overtones, Dorm is mostly a success, though it has a habit of getting a little too sickly sweet.
Dorm is a pretty classy looking flick, but it's so dark in parts sometimes it's hard to tell what's going on. The DVD has decent highlights, but as you can probably tell from my screen caps, it's still a little hard to discern some of the detail. The details that appear in well lit areas are sharp, though some of the brighter colours bleed a bit. The blacks are deep, and even in the dark scene grain and noise is surprisingly minimal. Edge enhancement is a bit of an issue, but mostly ignorable.
Tartan Asia Extreme releases always feature decent DTS tracks, but this is the first in a long time to blow me away. The track is very subtle, and the occasional accent mark is very sharp. The spatial representation of the film's ghostly world is spot on. Directional effects are, again, subtle for the most part, but at certain points uncannily convincing. Everything is clear, without noticeable distortion, and lip-sync is never off (unlike some other recent Tartan releases).
Tartan Asia Extreme is pretty predictable, and these extras don't surprise too much. First up is the director/actor commentary, oops, make that director/journalist commentary (a little typo on Tartan's part). Director Songyos Sugmakanan is joined by two Thai film journalists, and the track is lively and informative. The presence of film critics helps keep things focused and moving. My favourite bit is when the director gets to talk about his film within a film, which is a Thai remake of Mr. Vampire. The footage is convincing enough that I thought it was just a Thai rip-off the crew had discovered.
There are two very brief behind the scenes featurettes. One is made-up of raw footage, and simply runs its course without any explanation. The other appears to be either a made for TV special or an EPK. It's fluffy, featuring interviews with cast and director, and it moves along at an unbelievably fast pace. It does explain some of the raw footage from the other featurette. Another featurette, narrated by the director, covers the making of the film's chief special effects sequence. Like the raw footage, it is strangely cropped within a graphic, making it appear about two thirds the size of the screen.
The deleted scenes feature a commentary track with the director, who gives a bunch of good reasons for his editing. Most of the scenes were erased because they feature too much unnecessary background information about the lead character. Sugmakanan is wise to keep the film moving during these crucial scenes.
There is another interview selection that focuses more directly on character introductions. It appears to have been made as part of an EPK. The disc is finished by a series of Tartan Asia Extreme trailers.
In the end Dorm isn't really a horror film at all, it's Stand By Me meets the last act of The Sixth Sense. It's not particularly innovative, and it gets pretty sappy, but it isn't another Ringu rip-off, and that counts for a whole lot. The scary scenes are genuinely scary, but not the point of the film. I can't recommend Dorm to discriminating horror fanatics, but urge fans of '80s adventurous kids flicks to give it a shot.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 22nd May 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: DTS 5.1 Thai, Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai
Extras: Director/Critic Commentary, The Making of Dorm, Deleted Scenes, Behind the Scenes, Below the Pool, Character Intros, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Songyos Sugmakanan
Cast: Chalee Trairat, Nipawan Thaveepornsawand, Jintara Sugapat, Sirachuch Chienthaworn, Suttipong Tudpitakkul
Length: 111 minutes
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