Detention is a politically-charged Taiwanese horror film, tinged with stylistic flourishes and a freakish lead monster. Depicting 1962 Taiwan during the White Terror period, any citizens who were even the slightest bit left-thinking or anti-establishment were at the mercy of a vengeful government. Reading banned books could result in the ultimate punishment: death! Campy at certain points, intensely over-serious at others, Detention is directly tied into Taiwanese lore in a way that dials up the specificity. There are scary ghosts girls of course, but the central baddie is what really sells this gnarly blast of fun.
Hell is high school, quite literally, in Detention. For the students of Greenwood High School, participating in the book club project, which specializes in banned books, means they are all government targets. With free speech restricted, the teens must try to survive long enough to make it out alive. Fang Ray Shin (Gingle Wang) and Wei Chung Ting (Jing-Hua Tseng) wake up trapped in a shadow version of their school. The key to solving the mystery lies in the book club, and Fang’s relation to its leader and her crush, Mr. Chang (Fu Mengbo).
The imagery is creepy enough to overcome occasional shortcomings. CGI-heavy happenings and gore detract from the atmosphere. Spooky dimly-lit hallways and dusty classrooms set the stage like a Fatal Frame game; creepy blood-dripping ghost girls and a violent ghoulish demon general both have a J-horror flare to them. It makes sense that Detention frequently feels like a video game; it is based on the identically-named title from Red Candle Games. Silent Hill comes to mind where the lead monster, known as the Lantern Spectre, is concerned—it is virtually impossible to miss shades of Pyramid Head.
Intricately weaving its mystery plot with the backdrop of White Terror adds a decidedly different flavor to its terrors. Detention is so politically-driven that the film is apparently banned in mainland China. In a way this makes it rather risqué. Even if I did not love every development of the plot, I have to admire a movie that takes as many risks as this one does. “I’ll kill you to show my loyalty to the party” is a horrifying line, no matter the circumstances. My favorite moment in the film is a lengthy chase scene with the Lantern Spectre. His mirror-face is the stuff of nightmares.
Detention whistleblows its true-story inspired saga of frights when it unfolds in theaters and virtual cinemas nationwide on Friday, October 8th.