Adapting a video game to cinema has always been a tricky business, with the majority of efforts having failed to produce desired results, despite the usually big budgets allocated to such efforts. The problem usually is the writing of the video games, with the stories rarely having the quality of movie scripts. Here, however, that is not the case, since the script of the Taiwanese game “Detention” is quite layered and well written, resulting in a film that is truly intriguing, to say the least.
The story takes place during the 60s, the White Terror martial law period, a time when free speech was restricted and political literature, particularly text that were considered in favor of the Left, prohibited. Fang, a female student at the Greenwood High School, which is located in a mountainous area, is attending counseling with Mr Chang, with the two also sharing feelings almost forbidden for teacher-student relationships. Furthermore, Mr Chang has also created a study group for banned books, with fellow teacher Miss Yin and male student Wei. One day, Mr Chang disappears and Fang and Ray find themselves trapped in the school, which has changed in unsettling ways, as it seems completely abandoned, apart from the presence of demons. Searching for all the people missing, including Mr Chang, they gradually unravel the events that took place in the school and the role Fang played in them.
John Hsu directs a film that begins as a thriller/survivalhorror, but using the White Terror period as background, soon becomes a historical political statement about the specific era, through the story of the protagonists. In that fashion, initially the focus is on the monsters roaming the corridors of the school and the two students’ efforts to survive, with the part featuring many jump scares and SFX. However, as the flashbacks of the actual events take over, the narrative changes into that of a drama with intense political elements, as the tragic story of Fang and particularly the role her mother’s actions played in it are revealed. Since the script is filled with truly shocking plot twists, I would not like to analyze more; however, I can easily say that the atmosphere of the White Terror age and the consequences it had on people, both psychological and in the way their lives was eventually shaped, is highlighted quite thoroughly.
The result may be unusual, but in the end it seems that the aforementioned combination was quite successful, regarding both the sociopolitical comments and the entertainment the film offers as a horror/drama. This accomplishment should be attributed to both Hsu’s excellent directing and Shieh Meng-Ju’s artful editing, that connects the different aspects of the film in a way that makes sense, while also retaining a very fitting, relatively fast pace. Furthermore, Chou Yi-hsien’s cinematography is also quite accomplished, in both the depiction of the supernatural-horror setting of the “present” and the realistic-dramatic of the “past”.
The acting is in complete resonance with the film’s aesthetics, with Gingle Wang as Fang standing out as both a disoriented, and tragically spoiled and naive character, respectively in the two timelines.
One could say that the sociopolitical comments and the metaphors that communicate them are too obvious, but considering the genre premises of the film, I would say that this tactic actually works quite well. In the end, it is always great to watch a horror film with some substance, and that is exactly what “Detention” offers.