Fantasia 2020 Review: DETENTION Shines New Light On Taiwan's White Terror
Taiwan's White Terror was among the longest periods of a nation under martial law in modern history. From 1947 to 1987, the country was at the mercy of a government fearful of its own people. Dissenters were tortured, imprisoned, and much worse for even the slightest perceived transgressions against the state. In the decades since the orders were lifted, the story has been told numerous times, but one of the most popular versions came in the form of a video game, Detention, created by Red Candle Games, which has now been adapted into a terrifying feature film directed by newcomer, John Hsu.
Detention takes place on the campus of the Greenwood School, where students follow rigid daily schedules and procedures prescribed by their government watchers. Even the smallest deviation from their daily routines are scrutinized meticulously to insure that no insurrection is allowed to foment. But, if history has told us anything, it's that there's no better place to start a revolution than on a campus, and Greenwood is no different.
The military forces looking over the campus are keenly aware of the danger they face, and most of the students cower in the face of punishment, but a brave few create a an underground book club that may end up costing them their lives. Fang Ray-shin (Gingle Wang) is a teenaged girl who has fallen for her teacher, Chang Ming-hui (Fu Meng-po), one of the few sympathetic faculty members on campus. When Chang disappears, Fang and her friend Wei Chung-ting (Tseng Ching-hua) go looking for him, but soon find that the military isn't the only thing to be afraid of, as supernatural demons begin stalking them and their friends and they may not make it out alive.
As far as video game adaptations go, American cinema is littered with the corpses of dead potential franchises, but Asia seems to have a much better grasp on how to successfully transfer the terror to the big screen. Between this and last year's Fantasia alum, Dreadout from Indonesia's Kimo Stamboel, it feels like they've got the hang of taking what is great about games and translating it to a compelling, entertaining narrative. In the case of Detention, the adaptation is helped by the fact that the original property is based on actual history, giving the filmmakers more to draw from when creating their tableau.
Hsu's film doesn't really feel like an adaptation at all, in fact, it's a effective, spooky, dread filled experience that works unexpectedly well. Apart from a few unnecessary romantic digressions, Detention is a truly terrifying work that very rarely gives its audience a chance ot relax, ratcheting up the tension with numerous small reveals that keep us glued to the screen.
While most of the film centers around Fang and her descent into a dystopian authoritarian hell, it is worth noting that what intermittent elements of supernatural horror are present in the film are surprisingly effective. The above mentioned demons tasked with stalking and punishing dissenters are expertly designed and truly scary, and a lot of the fascist imagery used to convey the toll that White Terror took on the youth of Taiwan is well thought out and arresting, even if it isn't given nearly enough weight in the plot of the film.
Detention is a fairly slick, well-executed, topical horror film along the lines of films like Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth or Issa López's Tigers Are Not Afraid. While it's perhaps not as effective as those in terms of communicating the real world horrors that inspired it, it's a noble effort that does well to entertain while respecting the tragic roots of its story.
- John Hsu
- Shih-Keng Chien
- Lyra Fu
- John Hsu
- Gingle Wang
- Meng-Po Fu
- Jing-Hua Tseng
- Cecilia Choi