Wrapping a terrifying story around a true period of human horror, Detention is a layered tale that’s heavy on scares, but also dripping ripe with messaging.

Touching on the political scene in Taiwan in the 1960s, it unfolds in the White Terror period, which was an era of martial law in the country that lasted over 38 years, from 1949 to 1987. Of the many restrictions, reading banned books (most of which were just expressing free thought) was one of them, and becomes the main premise of Detention’s story, as it follows a group of students in Tsuihua Senior High School who try to form a book club for exploring prohibited literature.

Led by teachers Zhang Ming Hui (Fu Meng Po) and Yin Tsui Han (Cecilia Choi), the group bonds over their shared love for exploration of worldly works, and protects each other from the officials, including the unbending Inspector Bai who oversees the school. But after Fang Ray Shin (Gingle Wang) discovers the group, she finds herself unwillingly entangled in the situations that follow.

While all this might sound more social-political drama, Detention is a horror title because of it’s encasing premise. Based on the survival horror video game of the same name from Red Candle Games, the film focuses on Ray Shin after she wakes up and finds everyone missing. Other than glimpses of her teacher Ming Hui, the only person that accompanies her through the school is Wei Zhong Ting (Tseng Jing Hua), who nurses a crush on her. The duo quickly realises this may not exactly be the same school – or realm for that matter – and find themselves struggling to find their way out with their beloved teacher.

Director John Hsu, along with his crew, has definitely invested all of their vision in recreating the imagery from the original game. It works wonderfully and is absolutely terrifying. With stained walls and paper signs plastered everywhere, along the naturally militant air, the school feels like an ominous being in itself – forbidding and judging. And rendering the iconic image of Ray Shin exploring the compound with just a crimson candle into the film remains stark, giving off an ominous Silent Hill air. With striking similarities in framing, setting and visual palette to the game, both the eerie and forlorn vibes continue to haunt.

Hsu’s dedication to such homage is partly because of how effective the game was in conveying a new kind of horror imagery, especially for a homegrown Taiwanese effort, but he was also gripped by the purgatory story embedded within. Wanting to expose the younger generation who might not have experienced the game to this chapter of their country’s history, his film rendition pays due respect to the game, yet manages to inject enough meat to call the product his own.

Detention is disturbing as hell. There are so many levels of horror within it that it’s sure to pull at least on one of your nerves. From a faceless stalking monster to seeing brutal torture methods, the scope stays comprehensive without becoming confused. And when it comes to its main theme of right values twisted by human failings, the terrifying circumstances goes full hilt into themes of betrayel, suicide, abuse, and mental illnesses – all awash in some truly unforgettable scenes.

Having been nominated for 12 Golden Horse Awards and winning five, including Best New Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction and Original Film Song, “The Day after the Rain”, Detention has impressive polish and depth on its side, along with a surprisingly mature treatment. No doubt this is because of its bigger intentions out of the film.

“Have you forgotten, or are you too afraid to remember?”

The film’s tagline is a reflection of the lead’s self-discovery and of the nature of sin, but take a step back and you’ll realise, it’s also a political statement. Compelling stuff from the director Hsu.

Rating: 4*

Creepy visuals and amazing recreation of the game gives fans and newbies alike a taste of the heritage Detention embodies. The film is plump with things both tragic and terrifying to watch.

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