WARNER BROS. TAIWAN (2020)
Director: John Hsu
Starring: Gingle Wang, Fu Meng-Po, Tseng Ching-Hua, Cecilia Choi, Hung Chang Chu
Fantasia Festival 2020 Selection
Video game movie alert! John Hsu’s Detention is adapted from the 2017 Red Candle Games release and is set in 1960s Taiwan during a period known as the “White Terror” era – a time that saw thousands of Taiwanese civilians arrested and/or murdered for treason. The offence? Seeking out left-leaning political books and writings. In Hsu’s story, a secret book club is set up in a High School against the backdrop of fear and paranoia and, one evening, a student and teacher find themselves locked inside the school but they’re not alone – something demonic lurks as they attempt to unravel the mystery of their missing book club alumni.
Detention weaves plenty of elements into its runtime – obviously socio-political commentary, but also horror, drama and some romance to boot – and, for the most part, is successful in doing so. Hsu utilises flashbacks effectively (more a past timeline than flashbacks) in a movie that leans heavily on the horror angle in its first half before giving way to drama in the final acts as the real horror of the age are highlighted (in fact, the movie is split into three handily-titled segments). We follow Fang (Wang), a student of the school, and her teacher/secret lover Mr Chang (Meng-Po) for the majority of the movie, however, the few secondary characters we are introduced to as part of the book club and the authority figures are vital to the plot and outcome of Detention. There are plenty of twists (a few big ones, too) littered throughout the movie that makes discussing it a minefield at times but, let’s face it, that’s not really a bad thing is it? There’s more than enough to keep you focused but it’s the performances that stand out – especially Gingle Wang as Fang. Her layered performance across the two timelines is packed with varying emotions and behaviours and really helps to drive the events of the movie forward.
A movie laced with tragedy, Detention brings some effective scares, a taut atmosphere and a burning focus on a dark time in history. Smartly edited and visually appealing, Detention is well worth your time – there are a few dips here and there but certainly nothing to derail the narrative. Successfully blending various timelines and genres, Detention is a very decent and accomplished political horror.
August 27th 2020