SEPTEMBER 7, 2012
Maybe it's just coincidence, but it seems I've seen way too many "based on a true story" horror films lately - why are we not hearing about these exciting stories when they happen? I understand how it can add an extra layer to the marketing, but 9 times out of 10 you won't even find the alleged true story, and the other time it will be so modified, as is the case for Laddaland, that you can pretty much say any movie is based on a true story. Armageddon? Based on a true story! There ARE asteroids and there IS a space program, right?
It's pretty much the same thing here. There is a real place nicknamed Laddaland, and some urban legends surround the place for whatever reason, but nothing's ever actually happened there, best as I can tell. This "true story" is merely an embellished/modified version of one of those urban legends, which is like the Kevin Bacon-y form of a true story, if you ask me. But I can't deny it works on the easily duped portion of the audience (and let's face it, most horror movies are aimed at these folks) - I clearly remember overhearing a guy at Best Buy telling his friend that the super 8 "evidence reel" at the beginning/end of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake was the actual evidence from the real case.
Anyway, all that nonsense doesn't matter if the movie's good, and Laddaland is in that ballpark. With some tighter editing and maybe one more big scare scene this would rival the top draws in the Asian horror genre, in my opinion, as it focuses on the story of its main characters instead of the story of its ghost. So many of these things spend so much time explaining the hows and whys of its villain that I lose sight of why I should care about the main character - that doesn't happen here. Similarly, it's coherent! Everything about the ghosts is pretty cut and dry, and most of the horror stems from the main character's growing desperation as his life crumbles around him - it's more like Session 9 than The Grudge, in other words.
It starts off like a typical Poltergeist type thing, with a family moving into a new home inside a gated community - living the ideal life. The dad buys a new flatscreen, they have a fully automated air conditioning system (this elaborate setup seems to exist just to justify a scare later, but fine), etc. But then his office goes bankrupt, and neighbors start dying off... could it all be related? The answers might surprise you if you've seen enough Asian horror, since it's usually so much more convoluted, but I liked that they opted for a "keep it simple" option for a change. Even when there's a big twist, it serves the main narrative about a guy who is coming undone, as opposed to something that gets tossed in just to give the film a scare when it "needed" one.
But director Sopon Sukdapisit (who wrote Shutter) botches a potentially great scare scene, one that should have been the "Nurse in the hallway" (from Exorcist III) moment in this film, where everyone walks away talking about how scary it was. Our hero is looking for his son, and he sees a fridge that has been taped shut, which then shakes. Assuming his son is trapped inside, he frantically tears all of the tape off, and as he gets the last piece, his cell rings. Rather than open the door, he answers it, and of course it's his wife telling him that she found their kid, he's home safe. So we're supposed to be terrified that there's SOMETHING in that fridge, but it's impossible to get too worked up because any sane person would be shaking their head at why he stopped to answer his phone before opening the door. What should have happened is, he's on the phone already and then notices the fridge, and starts tearing off the tape. Just as he gets to the last piece, the wife can say "Oh, false alarm - here he is!", leaving him/us with the dread that he just unknowingly freed a ghost/demon/whatever. That extra beat just kills everything.
This also could have helped the movie's other issue - being too long. It runs just under two hours, which is a lot for a movie that doesn't really have much of a plot or even a lot of scare scenes. One could argue that the extra time spent with the family makes the ending all the more tragic, but I think I would have been just as sad (it's a REALLY sad ending, capped with a salt in the wound montage of events that led up to the film's beginning) if the movie was only around 100 minutes, perhaps even more so as there wouldn't have been so many stretches where nothing of note was happening (there's a lengthy scene with the daughter and her pals that could have been cut in half, easily). It also has some unnecessary Snorri-cam shots that could have been removed entirely without hurting the movie at all.
But while there are some questionable visual elements, the surround sound is top notch. Even though the subtitles seemed to be dumbed down compared to the dub track (like "Hey, what time are we having dinner tonight?" becomes "When's dinner?" - that sort of thing), I opted to listen to the original language with subs just so I could be sure that I was getting the full surround mix, as it was terrific. More than once I actually looked behind me because I thought my cat had knocked something over or there was a commotion out on the street, only to realize it was just a well placed surround effect. Many films that I watch don't bother taking advantage of what Dolby offers, so when I realize how much I'd be missing without it, it makes the time I spent setting it all up worthwhile.
The DVD has a few interviews from what appears to be the film's press junket, and the subtitles seem to be translated by machine (or a non-English speaker), so they're not of much use unless you enjoy hearing people describe the characters you've already been through a journey with, and explaining how scary it will be. I did laugh at one bit, however - the lead actor praises the little kid playing his son (who has the awesomest name ever: Gobgab) for being able to work until 3 or 4 in the morning without a fuss. We have rules about that sort of thing here in the US, so it's funny that not only is it allowed over there in Thailand, but apparently something they flaunt. The trailer for this and some other films in the same vein are also included - hardly a special edition, more like a mint on your pillow.
It's probably a bit too slow and "conventional" for those who really get into Asian horror, but I really appreciated the more character driven, dramatic take on this sort of material, having long grown tired of haunted devices and vengeful spirits that were buried in the walls or in a well or whatever. If someone were to fan-edit it down to 100 minutes or so, it would be one of my all time faves of the sub-genre, but even as is it's still more memorable than most. Good work, everyone!
What say you?