JULY 11, 2009
The nice thing about Dorm (Thai: Dek Hor) is that it’s not really a horror movie. I mean, yeah, it’s about ghosts and an accidental death and all that good stuff, but very little of the film is concerned with scares or even suspense; it merely uses a familiar horror movie staple to tell a nice story about a kid who learns to stop being such a fucking asshole.
See, our hero is, for the bulk of the film, largely unlikable. He whines, he’s selfish, and he has no respect for his dad. The look on the poor man’s face as he makes his third or fourth attempt to call the brat (who has been sent to boarding school) only for the kid to hang up on him is one of the most heartbreaking parental moments I’ve seen in a film since poor Chick Chapel was introduced as a salesman. Few are the films where you spend the entire movie thinking “I would really like to smack this hero in the fucking mouth.”
But that is, of course, the point. The movie is about him growing up and learning to accept his role in life, and thus if he was pleasant throughout the film there would be little concern as to whether or not he succeeded. It would be like watching a movie about the greatest pro sports player in history hoping to win the lottery or something. In a few ways, it reminded me of Tim Sullivan’s underrated (also horror-lite) Driftwood, which also concerned a kid at a boarding school and a ghost.
Also, I liked that it didn’t take the entire movie for us to be told that the hero’s best friend, who takes an instant liking to him and never speaks to anyone else, is (spoiler) a ghost. You will probably figure it out pretty quickly, but unlike The Uninvited or whatever, the movie gives us that information by the end of the first act or so, sparing you having to feel like an idiot in case you somehow DIDN’T figure it out. It also allows us a few scenes we don’t usually get in such scenarios, like the hero asking the ghost how he became a ghost in the first place (such a conversation probably would have ruined The Sixth Sense). The movie also has a bit of a Stand By Me feel, so the scene has the unusual stigma of a horror movie scene being both quirky (he literally says “How did you become a ghost?”) and touching, and plays out like any number of the scenes between Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix in that film.
The only issue I had (besides, as always, the length - would it kill these Thai guys to make something that clocks in under 100 minutes?) is that they give us all of the information in one giant stretch of the film during the 3rd act and then Return Of The King the narrative with three or four scenes in a row that could easily be the film’s ending. There are two parts to the mystery - one revolving around the ghost kid, the other around a weird teacher, and it would have been nice to have the information on one, then some scares or even more character scenes, and THEN get the rest of it. Instead, we get it all in one giant blob of exposition, as if the director realized he had been dicking around for too long and needed to catch up on answers. Sort of like the 4th (strike affected) season finale of Lost.
Also, though this is presumably no fault of the filmmakers, the DVD looks like ass. I can’t recall the last time I saw so many halo/rainbow effects on an image. It’s also not very detailed, it often looked like a DVD might when you use the zoom feature on your player. This may be a result of the above average number of extras on the disc coupled with the nearly two hour film. There is nearly a half hour’s worth of deleted scenes, many of them worth a look as they fill in more of the story of the kid’s home life before he went to the boarding school (one in particular would have helped make his attitude toward his dad easier to sympathize with). Then there are a number of short behind the scenes pieces (some of them seem to have been created for a website or something) that focus on the characters and story, and also one focusing on the green-screen effects during the climax. Nothing groundbreaking, but worth a look if you dug the movie. There is also a commentary, which is in Thai with English subs (thank you!) but I don’t have time to listen to it. I am sure it’s fine.
And I know they are out of business now and that is a damn shame, but Tartan needs to be smacked around for opening the disc with a company promo that cannot be skipped, bypassed (via the menu button), or even fast-forwarded. Christ, the old “hit stop and then hit the menu button” trick doesn’t even work, because it won’t even let you stop the damn thing! You literally HAVE to watch it. It makes Lionsgate’s “you WILL watch our awesome logo!” behavior seem reasonable. The disc came at the tail end of their release output, so maybe it was a last ditch effort to ensure people were aware of their slate, but egads man. Take out an ad on a website where we are used to being annoyed by promotional malfeasance.
If you’re looking for Ju-On or whatever albeit set in an all boys’ junior high school, then you will probably be bored to tears and should stick to one of the umpteen remakes/sequels to that film. But if you were a fan of Driftwood, or merely enjoy a “quieter” horror film with an emphasis on character (and coherency!) over scares, this would be one of the better recent examples, of the few that exist. Worth a look.
What say you?