Reviewed by: JimmyO
What's it about
A young boy is sent by his cold father to a boarding school in hopes that it will shape his son up. When the boy gets to his new school, he is faced with bullying peers, a strict teacher and a ghost.
Is it good movie?
There is familiar territory in many of the J-Horror films to come out over the past few years. Many of them involve some sort of nasty ghost, usually a woman or a young boy or girl. And oftentimes, if the ghost were of the female persuasion, she would have long, flowing hair covering her face. So what a surprise that the Thailand film Dorm has a ghost without the hair, and without the anger at the living. In fact, I would be lying if I called this a horror movie, or even a ghost story. This is a coming of age film set in a haunted boarding school. Because here, the ghost is not mean, nor is it particularly scary. I would say that the ghost is merely a part of a young boy coming to terms with those around him. Mostly himself and his father. A life lesson that one would almost consider an invisible friend. Come on, I know you had one.
Dorm begins as a young boy named Ton (Chalee Trairut) is sent away to boarding school by his distant father. Upon his arrival, he meets the stern teacher named Ms. Pranee (Chintara Sukapatana). Along with everyone else at the school, she is strange and unfamiliar, thus frightening to the young boy. When a group of kids decide that Ton needs a lesson of sorts, they keep him up all night telling him ghost stories about those who have died at the school. But it seems they are all afraid, because maybe, there is truth to these stories. One in particular involves the haunted bathroom. Soon, Ton finds that the haunted legends may have some fact behind them. So he is bullied, has a cold teacher and finds out the school is haunted. He is alone yet still refuses to talk to his seemingly guilt-ridden dad who continually tries to call him and good old dad has a few reasons to feel guilty.
Thankfully, another boy strikes up a friendship with Ton. Vichien (Sirachuch Chienthaworn is another student who seems to take pity on the new kid. They soon face their fears together, but only upon a realization of who Ton’s new buddy really is. I won’t give away too much but I will say that if you are looking for a scary little horror flick about a boarding school you should stick with The Devil’s Backbone. When the ghost stories are told, there is a nice atmospheric creep factor which had me leaning in closer to hear the tales, but that is where the horror ends. And frankly, I appreciated that. It was a refreshing change of pace to see ghostly elements to tell such a sensitive story without falling into sentimentality.
As for the mostly young cast, it is especially nice to see such a talented and natural group. Chalee Trairut is a pro, he is very credible as Ton. Yet, one major problem I found with the film is the young boys constantly changing hair style. No, it didn’t hurt the film per say, but it was very distracting throughout the first half. I kept thinking that maybe there was another character that I may have missed. It was a serious continuity error that made me wonder if or if not he would have hair after every scene. But that was the worst complaint I really had. I also really enjoyed Ms. Sukapatana as Ms. Pranee, she gives a delicate and quite frankly, brilliant performance. But make sure you know the kind of film you are watching, this is a very poorly advertised cover and trailer making this out to be a horror film. This is not a horror film, but it is a touching yet slightly creepy coming of age drama. If that’s what you are looking for, then check it out.
Video / Audio
Video: Tartan Asia Extreme has a knack for releasing beautifully transferred films, and this Anamorphic Widescreen is no exception.
Audio: The DTS Surround 5.1 and Dolby Digital Surround Sound are both clean. This is especially good when it comes to the creepy bits.
When it comes to Special Features, Tartan Asia Extreme is usually worthwhile. Dorm is no exception. For starters, we have Commentary with director Songyos Sugmakanan and two film critics (not the cast that it claims on the DVD). It is enlightening to hear about how he came up with the film, and no, it had nothing to do with The Devil’s Backbone. He also spent his youth in a boarding school and brought many of those stories into the film.
Next us we have The Making of Dorm (11:09) which mostly covers what it was like working with the child actors. Not a bad feature, but not a whole lot of insight on the movie itself.
There are a few Deleted Scenes (20:37) that also include directors commentary if you are so inclined. The scenes were fine but I can see why they were taken out. They added nothing to the film that wasn’t already there.
The Behind the Scenes (5:47) seem to be made for a Thailand entertainment television show with the chipper narration. But we do find out that it is better to work with children then geese.
This is a kind of cool feature called Below the Pool - Special Effects (4:57) and shows how the very important “swimming pool” sequence was shot. I really liked this feature and would have liked to have seen more like it.
Next was a very minor Character Introduction (4:12). It introduces some of the characters… so enjoy. We also get the Original Trailer (1:35) which really sells the wrong movie. This is not… I repeat, NOT a horror film.
Finally, we have Trailers for “Acacia”, “Arang”, “Shutter”, “The Ghost” and “The Heirloom”.
In this surprisingly charming, yet noticeably flawed in the continuity department J-Horror flick, I found myself really enjoying the more human elements. The ghost story is an important factor in Dorm but that’s not really what it’s about. The performances are very natural, especially from the amazingly talented Jintara Sukaphatana as a teacher haunted by memories. I highly recommend this film as long as you can forget about the haircut that constantly changes. Hey, maybe the boys head is haunted.