REVIEW: ‘Detention’ is a Tense Horror Set in an Oppressive Political State

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Detention

Content Warning: Detention contains a scene containing suicide.

Detention is a horror film based on the video game by Red Candle Games starring Gingle Wang and Jing-Hua Tseng. Set in the 1960s, the Taiwanese government, fearing the possible actions of the communist regime in mainland China, has cracked down on anything they suspect of being seditious. This includes banning many books and creating harsh consequences, including death, for anyone who breaks the rules or even fails to turn over those who do. In this oppressive and paranoid time, several students at a local high school have begun meeting with a couple of open-minded teachers to have a book group where they explore some of these forbidden texts. But something has gone horribly wrong.

When one thinks of horror, the most frequent images that spring to mind are iconic movie monsters—the creatures that have pursued, hunted down, or brutalized our favorite protagonists as they try desperately to escape from the creature’s clutches. But while these movie monsters often capture the limelight and fill our imagination, the genuinely terrifying elements of horror are those that come from humanity itself—the terrors wrought by hate, fear, and oppression. When faced with the cruelty of humanity, there is little in fiction that can terrify nearly as much. Detention takes both of these sides of the horror genre and merges them into one story.

When high schoolers Fang (Wang) and Wei (Tseng) both stay late after school one day, they discover something has changed in the world around them.  Areas of the school are taped off and ransacked. Parts used just that day are covered in dust as if no one has been around in a while, and a monstrous creature bearing a large paper lamp stalks the halls, obsessively searching for traitors to the government.

What transpired to make these changes occur is the primary mystery that drives Fang and Tseng through Detention‘s one-hour and 45-minute runtime. The two students’ search for answers brings lots of tense moments and emotional reveals as the secrets of the school come unraveled. These moments and reveals do a great job of drawing the viewer into the movie’s world. It also helps to cover what will be the movie’s most prominent struggle for some.

While Detention‘s moment-to-moment storytelling is engaging, there are plenty of questions about the nature of many of the events that are left glaringly unanswered after the credits roll. For example, did the more metaphysical moments in the plot actually happen, or were they manifestations of one of the students’ minds? And if so, who saw what? Whether or not this kind of open-ended plot is a problem is solely up to the viewer’s preference. For myself, I would’ve appreciated a bit more clarity, but the obtuseness of some of the plot points certainly was not enough to diminish my enjoyment of Detention‘s overall narrative.

The visual presentation does a great job of crafting the world of Detention. From the fear-inducing monster to the many locations throughout the school, every set does a great job of further enhancing the tension that infuses the movie’s tale. The only visual failure for me lay in the camera work for one particular sequence. There is a strangeness in how the camera follows the actors in this sequence that has a jarring effect. While not completely ruining this sequence, it was the only time I felt pulled out of the movie by a visual failing.

When all is said and done, Detention delivers a great, tension-fueled horror story that utilizes both the terror of monsters as well as the threat of humanity to craft a story that grabs hold of the viewer and seldom lets go.

Detention releases October 8 in the US.


Detention
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Detention delivers a great, tension-fueled horror story that utilizes both the terror of monsters as well as the threat of humanity to craft a story that grabs hold of the viewer and seldom lets go.