Dorm (aka Dek hor) DVD Review
Written by Steve Pattee
DVD released by Tartan Video
Are you scared of ghosts? – Peng
Directed by Songyos Sugmakanan
Written by Chollada Teosuwan, Vanridee Pongsitisak and Songyos Sugmakanan
2006, Region 1, 107 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on May 22nd, 2007
Jintara Sukaphatana as Ms. Pranee
Chalee Trairut as Ton
Sirachuch Chienthaworn as Vichien
Jirat Sukcharben as Peng
Thanabodin Suksaeresup as Doc Nui
Pagasit Punturat as Pok
While some kids dread going back to school after summer vacation, young Ton (Chalee Trairut) is looking forward to it because he has missed his friends. But reality delivers a shocking blow in the form of his father making good on his promise to send Ton to a boarding school.
Arriving at the school, he immediately finds out three things:
The headmistress, Ms. Pranee, is not very nice, and may be a little nutty.
Some of the kids are jerkfaces, and they have chosen Ton as their next target.
The damn place is haunted.
He finds out that little tidbit after having a run-in with a ghost, coincidently enough after a night of telling ghost stories.
Fortunately for Ton, he manages to make himself a friend in Vichien (Sirachuch Chienthaworn), a kid seemingly as lonely as Ton.
Since Vichien has been attending the school for a while, Ton looks to him for answers on some of the stranger goings-on around the joint.
But Ton just might not be prepared for the answers he gets.
Dorm is pimped as a horror film and, while there are a few scares, it's not a fair representation of the flick by a long shot. It's more of a coming-of-age drama. But it's my favorite kind of coming-of-age story: the dark kind.
I'm a big fan of both films and books that involve kids learning about life through death. Both Stephen King's novella "The Body," and its terrific movie adaptation, Stand by Me, were fantastic. Joe Lansdale's novel "The Bottoms" is gripping. And now I can add Dorm up there with some of my favorites.
One of the best things about Dorm is the way things play out. Right when I figured out what I thought would be the "twist" (and, I assure you, you will figure it out early on, too), the movie takes a surprising turn. It acknowledged what I just figured out. It says, "Oh, you think you got our number? Well, we'll go ahead and recognize it and carry on so you won't have to hurt your little brain." And that's one of the beauties of Dorm, it doesn't bother with a twist or surprise ending. It just tells a damn good story of two kids and a budding friendship. With a ghost in the mix.
Another great thing about Dorm is the relationship between Ton and Vichien. Both kids are lonely, but for different reasons. Tun's is obvious. He's the newcomer at the last place he doesn't want to be. Vichien's reasons are a little more complicated, but lonely is lonely, and you have to root for both kids, because they are both in a pretty despairing situation. And kudos to both young actors for selling it. Their performances are critical to the film, and it would have been dead in the water if they weren't outstanding. Which they were.
Chalee Trairut, as Ton, easily has the bigger weight to carry of the two. Because not only is his character dealing with the frustrations of bullies and the unfairness of being placed in an environment he wants no part of, Tun also is dealing with his anger at his father who put him in said environment. Since his arrival at the boarding school, Tun has refused to speak to his father when he calls, and those moments of internal conflict staring at the phone, debating on whether or not to speak to his dad, are where Trairut shines the most. He throws on a face of aggravation, melancholy and wanting, all at the same time. You feel what he feels. You want him to, dammit, just talk to him, but, at the same time, you completely dig why he won't.
But Sirachuch Chienthaworn, who plays Vichien, should get his marks, as well. It's easy to play sad. It's easy to play happy. But Chienthaworn plays sad with a happy face. From the moment you see his seemingly free-spirit attitude, you immediately notice that it is a façade. That's a tough thing for seasoned actors to pull off, and even tougher for child actors. Chienthaworn has no problem with it.
Dorm is a dark movie, like the story it is telling. The mood is not only captured by the low-lit set (even the outdoor scenes seemed to filmed on dreary days), but through its actors. Ton is not happy to be at the school, by any stretch, and his attitude drips off the screen to you, adding to the bleakness of the movie. And that's what this movie is, from damn near start to finish: bleak. Even the ending, where things are squared away, it still leaves you a little sad. It's by no means a bad ending; it's quite a fitting ending (if a little predictable), but it's not a happy one. The ending is poignant and a bit heartbreaking. Yet, for it to be the movie that it is, it has to be that way.
While it doesn't have the fearful elements many fans have come to expect from Asian horror, Dorm is pretty damn gripping in its own right. I didn't know it going in, but it was produced by the same people who did Shutter, and considering how much I enjoyed that, it really is no surprise. If you dig coming-of-age stories with a little bit of a dark taste, this is a very safe blind buy. But if you're not the type to take that kind of chance, go out and rent it tonight.
Video and Audio:
There are a few instances of digital compression issues in Dorm's 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation, but only a few. They aren't distracting from the film, by any means, but they are noticeable (particularly on hard-edged things like cars and buildings). But, like I said, there are only a few, and aside from those instances, Dorm's picture is more than adequate. Being a gloomy movie, with plenty of low-lit shots, the picture has no time for riff-raff, and it didn't give any. The blacks are solid and the picture is clear.
The Thai DTS soundtrack is great. The audio is always crisp and clean, and there are a couple great scenes where the rears and sides really kick in, throwing you right into the film. Tartan rarely disappoints when it comes to the soundtrack.
Thai 5.1, 2.0 and English and Spanish subtitles are also available.
- Audio Commentary by Director and Cast
- The Making of Dorm
- Deleted Scenes With Optional Director Commentary
- Behind the Scenes
- Below the Pool (Special Effects)
- Character Introductions
- Original Theatrical Trailer
The commentary with director Songyos Sugmakanan and two film critics is an even mix of back patting, technical information on how the film was made and memories of childhood — in particular, boarding school memories. It's an interesting listen (well, read, as it is in Thai with English subtitles), but there's nothing really fascinating learned from it.
Dorm's "Making of..." featurette is a lot of behind the scenes clips mainly centering around the kids in the movie. There is no narration (and very few interviews), but it's a nice 11 minute piece as it's neither fluff, nor staged. Just everyone in their natural environment on the set and between the scenes.
There are a slew of deleted scenes running just over 20 minutes. While I question the cut of two of them (a TV scene and a scene showing Ton and his father's troubled relationship), there are no tragic losses.
Clocking in at just over five minutes, "Below the Pool" is a great featurette for the effects hounds. It covers how they shot one of the films slickest effects, and it's well worth a watch.
The "Character Introductions" featurette is a quick hit of some of the actors in the film explaining what role they play in the film. It's fluff, skip it.