More of a supernatural thriller than a flat out horror movie, Dorm is an interesting mix of Thai culture and stereotypical American spook show ideas and set pieces. The end result is surprisingly effective, putting this film on the growing list of good horror movies to have come out of Thailand over the last few years.
The story follows a twelve year old boy named Chatree who is forced to go to an all boy's boarding school despite the fact that it's really the last place he'd prefer to get his education. Once he gets settled in, not only does he have to deal with getting adjusted to his new surroundings but he's also got some obnoxious bully types to deal with, the kind that exist only to make the poor kid's life misterable. On top of all that, the teacher in charge, Ms. Pranee, of the school doesn't seem to care much for pour Chatree, and before you know it, the kid is pretty much alone in a very negative place.
What Chatree didn't know ahead of time was that many of the kids in the school believe that the building is haunted. It seems that kids have died in the pool and the young girls were hung in and around the area and that their spirits are restless and none too happy. There's a little bit of light in Chatree's life when he befriends another boy named Vichien. It doesn't take long for the two of them to really hit it off and things look like they're going to change for the better until Chatree starts to uncover a few seriously strange skeletons in his new pal's closet.
Borrowing from a few other movies like Suspiria and Pranks, Songyos Sugmakanan's Dorm is part ghost story, part psychological thriller and part coming of age story. North American audiences might find it interesting to note some of the subtle differences as well as some of the similarities between school life in Thailand versus school life in the west but the real reason to watch the film is for the carefully constructed story. The direction ensures that while this film doesn't move at lightning speed, that there's enough going on to keep things sufficiently eerie and mysterious during the first two thirds for the last act to work quite well. The mystery surrounding the events at the school and how the lives of Chatree and Vichien relate to those events is a genuinely interesting one and it should be enough to keep those with a reasonably strong attention span interested throughout.
Performance wise things are in pretty good shape. Often times child actors are hard to take in a suspense or horror film but here the cast does an admirable job with the material. The visuals are very strong with the cinematography nicely capturing the forbodding atmosphere given off by the boarding school where the bulk of the film unfolds. Lots of shadows and night time scenes mean that this is a dark looking film but it should be given the nature of the story being told. In the end, though the film deals with themes and ideas that have been explored in Western films in years past, it puts a uniquely Thai spin on it that makes it more than a rehash of what we've seen before. Dorm isn't a masterpiece but it's a very well made and entertaining film with some seriously creepy moments and a solid and engrossing storyline.
Aside from some mild trailing in a few scenes in the darker moments of the film, Tartan's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is decent. The black levels stay deep and strong and don't break up or pixelate at all although they do get a little murky and hide some of the fine detail at times. There is some moderate line shimmering in a couple of scenes but there aren't any issues with mpeg compression artifacts or serious edge enhancement. Color reproduction appears lifelike and accurate and in the lighter scenes there's a reasonably decent level of fine detail in both the foreground and the background of the image. Skin tones look healthy and overall the picture is generally quite sharp. Print damage is never a problem and the image is nice and clean.
The Thai Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS 5.1 Surround Sound tracks on this DVD are very good. The dialogue and sound effects are nice and clear and there's enough power in the lower end to make for a few decent jump scares throughout the film but for the most part the mix is quite subtle, making it all the more effective. The levels are well balanced and there aren't any problems with the performers getting buried in the sound effects or in the background score. Optional subtitles are supplied in both English and Spanish and they prove to be clean, clear, and easy to read and free of any noticeable typographical errors.
The film's director, Songyos Sugmakanan, provides a commentary with some help from a pair of Thai film critics. They cover the significance of a few key scenes, talk about casting, location shooting, effects work and more. With three people on the track things move along at a good pace and there isn't a lot of dead air to complain about. Aside from that we get a brief featurette made up of random on set footage and a second featurette that is basically just a promotional bit made up of sound bites and talking head/interview clips with the director and the cast. Tartan supplies a few deleted scenes that are available with optional director's commentary as well as some reasonably interesting cast interviews with all of the main performers. The standard Tartan Asia Extreme trailer collection is found here alongside some nice animated menus and a chapter selection option. The keepcase comes housed inside a slick cardboard slipcase containing cover art identical to that used on the insert itself.
Dorm borrows from a lot of other, better films but it does so in an interesting enough manner that it's worth a look for fans of Asian horror, even if Thai setting aside, this feels like more of an American film. Don't go looking for Ring inspired ghosts here, this film is played much differently than the cover art would have you believe and it's all the better for it. Tartan's disc looks good and sounds great and the extras aren't half bad either. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.