Sunday, August 23

Dorm (Thailand, 2006)

The kicked-up dirt, the caked mud on my leather shoes, and my rag-tag group---the overweight bully, the bespectacled math genius, the giggly volleyball players, the quiet Catholic that was me when I was in grade school---conquered after-school boredom with trips to dark corridors and empty classrooms. If we were feeling more daring than usual, we would go to the garden behind a Gothic, metal church where it was said the school's priests were buried. One time, we did see a ghostly figure, a thin old man who had ashen-gray skin, walking aimlessly around the garden. My friends screamed and ran, stumbling on rocks and shrubs. I was rooted to the ground. Because he had seen me. I remember my knees felt like buckling but I stood firm as the old man walked toward me. When he was less than a few feet away, he called out to me, "Hijo! Have you seen my nail cutter?" I shook my head, and suddenly ran away. I never told my friends that the old man was an almost senile priest.

Dorm (Dek Hor/เด็กหอ) is magical and horrifying this way. Horror with wide-eyed wonder, the kind that is an adventure shared with friends. Director Songyos Sugmakanan is a fantastic storyteller and starts the film with boyhood nostalgia quite similar to his early work along with other directors, Fan Chan, and Japanese thriller 20th Century Boys. Chatree (Charlie Trairat, also the lead of Fan Chan) is plucked from everything familiar and is sent to a boarding school where he is bullied by a gang of students. Songyos cloaks the dormitory in a mossy palette, giving it a more sinister, swampy feel as strange things begin to happen at night.

The frights are simple but ingeniously executed, and often aims to be evocative of childhood fears. The trips to the bathroom with every shadow stretched like clawed hands, the howling dogs, the school disciplinarian we imagined to be the devil incarnate (played delicately tethering to insanity by Thai veteran actress Chintara Sukapatana), the lock that seems to click into place by itself, unearthed forgotten jitters. Songyos doesn't aspire for grand. He is after our memory, and once the connection has been established, disbelief goes into suspended animation. I was a boy again wandering around corridors.

Horror turns to horrifying heartbreak when Chatree befriends Vichien (Michael Sirachuch Chientaworn), another loner who turns out to be a ghost. The hints were pretty obvious but the reveal was still a surprise, a reveal that was so unexpected and so refreshingly original that I gasped at both the anticipated plot twist and the surprising loneliness it meant.

Many would argue that Dorm isn't really a horror flick. Technically, it is. Horror in fiction is a disturbance in the human experience by supernatural forces. As a film, it does not go for the usual out-for-vengeance ghost with creaking bones. It may not frighten but it does horrify---seeing a friend die and decay is horrifying. Alienation, guilt, being unloved, more so.

With Dorm, Songyos attacks an old, familiar genre with such brutal grace that it is at once too beautiful and too painful to watch.

Rating: 5

Dorm (Dek Hor/เด็กหอ)
Directed by Songyos Sugmakanan (Fan Chan/Hormones)
Starring Charlie Trairat (Fan Chan/Hormones), Michael Sirachuch Chientaworn (Hormones), Chintara Sukapatana


Theo Martin said...

mare, kelan ba tayo manonood?

asan ang bahay mo! haharbatin ko na lahat ng DVDs mo! tapos balik ko sayo after a week! Dali! hahahahah

Kevin said...

I mentioned Dorm in the previous Comment I made in your blog. If I can't credit Dorm for at least getting me interested in seeing more of Songyos Sugmakanan's work (apparently, he and Charlie Trairat worked together again for part of a thriller to be shown in September), Dorm definitely become one of my favorites overnight.

Whether anybody think Horror is a proper way to classify the film or not, it at least served to bring it over from a domestic release in America. Very lucky for people like me...

It's nice to find characters you can relate to, since I moved to my current hometown in the 7th grade, just as the main character did. The school was known for high standards. But in the words of what I consider one of the most brilliant fiction characters on TV: "the photos of smiling people in the brochures, it's just marketing." Especially frustrating is being unable to determine who is just being friendly, and who is just setting you up so they can humiliate the new kid. And how all that does seem to be easier to deal with when you meet the first person who does seem to be genuinely interested in getting to know you. Damn, Songyos Sugmakanan just seems to get it. No wonder why I want to see more of his work.

Thor Bee said...

@Kevin: I have to agree with you 100%; Songyos just gets it and in a very natural way. One of the best things about Dorm is it does bring you back to when you were a kid and the difficulties that one encountered. The ghost, the pool, etc., in the end, became metaphors to a childhood that was surrounded by loneliness and how friendships and family shape us.

I know everybody's raving about arthouse directors Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul among others, but Songyos Sugmakanan makes great pop films, an equally great feat considering the quality of blockbuster movies.

Thor Bee said...

@Kevin: And, yes! I've seen the trailer to Phobia 2. Charlie and Songyos are back together in the...zombie segment!

Thor Bee said...

@Theo: LOL! I haven't been watching much lately; I'm trying to fix my sleeping pattern, keeping the blood pressure in control and all that stuff. :p

Mark Hodgson, said...

DORM is still my favourite Thai film, though I haven't seen that many. Despite the region 1 release, the film hasn't been properly 'discovered' internationally yet.

Thor Bee said...

Hi, Mark.

When someone mentions horror films from Thailand, most people immediately connect it with "Shutter." I wish it were "Dorm" instead.

Kevin (Ket) said...

"I know everybody's raving about arthouse directors Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul among others, but Songyos Sugmakanan makes great pop films, an equally great feat considering the quality of blockbuster movies."

Or lack thereof...

I was thinking about it a bit. Recently saw two films that were highly acclaimed but I (somehow) didn't hear about them when they were released: "Amelie" and "The Namesake". After watching these, and all those other films I've been commenting about in your blog, I've come to a conclusion. I'm getting a little tired of these 2 hour toy commercials that pass themselves off as feature films.

ayie said...

Can somebody help me, give the title and singer of the last song in the movie.Thanks in advance
~ayie. Kuala Lumpue, Malaysia

ayie said...

Can someone help me. Give me the title and singer of the last song in this movie. Thanks in advance. ~ ayie. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia