Fantasia Film Festival: Detention Review


Taking great inspiration from Guillermo del Toro, John Hsu’s Detention is a genre film with a heart. Detention follows a high school during the peak of Taiwan’s White Terror era. Two high schoolers wake up and find themselves trapped in their now desolate high school. With horrifying things happening around them, their only hope for escape revolves around the discovery of what happened to their school while they were asleep.

With Detention, the idea of the ripple effect plays a huge role in the film. John Hsu’s exploration of the ripple effect leads him to show what happens when that one selfish decision you make affects the larger world around you. As a result, Shih-Keng Chien, Lyra Fu, and John Hsu crafted a poignant story of love, heartbreak, and resisting oppression.

Although Detention is a Taiwanese film, it combines a lot of genres similar to what you see in a lot of Chinese cinema. To best describe this film, you have to break it up into three separate acts. The first two acts are completely different in tone. The first act is a terrifying horror movie in the same vein as some of the cult classic Asian horror films of the past. Somehow, no matter what the country, Asian cinema can always make high schools seem incredibly scary, and Detention is no exception.

Hsu uses humans’ inherent fear of the unknown against them through his use of lighting and set design. The film also earns its use of jump scares since it’s never overused and it’s unpredictable. The film doesn’t rely on this lazy horror trope to instill fear within the viewer. Instead, it lets the story do that for them. Unfortunately, the film goes CGI with its creatures, which do look questionable on-screen. Even though Detention takes inspiration off of the video game of the same name, the use of CGI does take you out of this horrific world that Hsu builds. 

Once it reaches the second act, it immediately becomes a mystery thriller. It explores what happened to the school and why ghosts and monsters roam the school. While the horror aspect grabs you in the first act, and the mystery thriller adds super glue, so it’ll never let you go. Although the second act is mostly a mystery thriller, the scares and tension never leave. The White Terror was a dark time in Taiwanese history. The smallest of mistakes and you’re being tortured or executed. The martial law lasted for 38 years, and many Taiwanese people were affected by this. The filmmakers did an incredible job of immersing non-Taiwanese in this era, so audiences can get a sense of what went on at this time.

Detention - Gingle Wang and Jing-Hua Tseng

You fear for the main characters because of their involvement in resisting the government. This fear of these characters getting caught never leaves your side. It’s always on your mind as they secretly oppose the government. All of the characters in the film are flawed yet likable as the second act of the film does an impeccable job in layering these characters and showing us what makes them tick. The film also explores how interconnected all of the characters are. It weaves an intricate web where a lot of their decisions will intentionally or inadvertently affect another. In other words, the ripple effect.

The third act is a culmination of everything revealed in the first two acts as the climax of the film is both terrifying and thrilling. In one big snowball effect, Detention reveals every single secret in one big satisfying fashion. Behind the supernatural scares and creepy setting lies a film with a lot of heart. The characters in this film are defying authority despite their fears of detainment, or worse, execution. Hsu wants to highlight these characters are the true patriots of Taiwan, and not on those who put a stranglehold on the country. 

Overall, Detention should be a film that should join the pantheon of great contemporary Asian horror classics. Detention is not just a terrific horror film, but it’s also a film with a deep message about celebrating those that are fighting for freedom. In its center lies a poignant film with tons of heart and emotion. All in all, Detention is one of my favorites of the year. 

Rating: 5/5 atoms

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