A potent mix of political rebellion, loyalty and unrequited love, told through the prism of supernatural horror, Detention is an eye-catching piece of work.

Impressively put together by writer/director John Hsu (making his feature debut no less), this Taiwanese effort (based on a 2017 video game) will probably not get the Western audience it deserves, but it is certainly worth searching out.

Set in 1962 Taiwan, deep in the ‘White Terror’ period of martial law, Detention hosts its action in a high school, overseen by overbearing military officers who have a tendency to cart off teachers in a van if they feel they have strayed from the ‘message’.

Among the pupils is Wei (Jing-Hua Seng), part of an underground ‘book club’ run by two teachers, Mr Chang (Meng-Po Fun) and Miss Yin (Cecilia Choi), who discuss poetry, art, music and literature out of hours that is most definitely not on the school curriculum.

Wei has the hots for another pupil, Fang Ray-Shin (Gingle Wang), who is not part of the book club and, even worse, has a father who is part of the military.

Wei takes the softly, softly approach to trying to woo Fang, but things take a turn for the very dark when the pair, without explanation, find themselves waking up in their school after hours. Not only that, but the school seems to have entered a parallel dimension/universe, one where their now-crumbling school is cut off from the outside world, shrouded in darkness – and with the military guards now having seemingly become literal demons…

I’ll leave it there, as Detention is very cleverly put together, with the action switching between the ‘present’ and flashbacks continuously, leaving the audience to piece together the mystery as much as the cast.

Allegiances are tested, there are plenty of twists, and the obvious political allegories and metaphors add a weight to the film that elevates it somewhat from its ilk.

There are some problems – the character of Fang, and some of her decision-making, does present issues (there’s a suggestion of a teacher-pupil relationship which strays pretty close to the edge).

But, putting that aside, the look of the film is key though and it works tremendously, with the ‘abandoned’ school a great setting for dialling up the spookiness, whether it be the shots of the pupils roaming the corridors by candlelight, the dimly-lit ‘demons’ carrying their lanterns, or Fang being followed by a grotesque version of herself that is right out of the J-horror playbook.

The performances are also wonderful from all, notably Gingle Wang, Jing-Hua Seng and Meng-Po Fun. While the film presents ample opportunity for histrionics and ham, the kids resolutely stick to the task, adding a depth to the film that helps considerably.

Final word must go to Hsu, who if this film is anything to go by, has a great future ahead of him, and I would love to see him dabble in other areas of the horror genre.

At times moving, at others effortlessly creepy, Detention is a roaring success.

Fantasia Review: Detention
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About The Author

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Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle