In Thai with English Subtitles
Director: Sophon Sakdaphisit
Cast: Saharang Sangkapreecha, Piyathida Woramusik
RunTime: 1 hr 57 mins
Released By: GV
Rating: NC-16 (Frightening Scenes)
Opening Day: 3 March 2011
Synopsis: Buying a home is a dream that everyone strives for. Thee (Saharat Sangkapreecha) is one of millions in Bangkok that cannot afford a home, much less a spacious home on his meager staff salary. Living in an old rental apartment, he feels the societal pressure of being labeled a bad husband and father for not being able to provide his family a house. One day, a huge job opportunity knocks on his door and Thee accepts a position as the new Head of Marketing at a company located in northern Thailand . Now with a substantially higher salary while living in an area with lower real estate prices, a new home isn’t just a dream anymore. Without hesitation, Thee decides to leave his old life and move his family to Chiang Mai. Thee believes that his wife, Parn (Piyathida Woramusik), and his two kids Nan and Nat will have a happier life at Laddaland, a new housing project with large, beautiful homes. Life is good. At the dinner table, Thee smiles proudly with pride. Finally, everyone can be together and enjoy the warmth and comfort of their new home. Little does he realize that in the same evening a Burmese maid is brutally murdered at a neighbor’s house. Savagely beaten, her mangled body is found stuffed inside the refrigerator. Death is something we all must face soon or later, but in Laddaland it’s your dead neighbors is what you must deal with.
The title of the film refers to a gated suburban community in Chiang Mai with rows of identical two-storey detached houses and an idyllic lake right in the centre. It’s the equivalent of the American dream, except that it has apparently also become the Thailand dream especially for the middle-income, where ownership of such a residence is seen as a status symbol of one’s place in society.
Into one of these houses is where Thee (Saharat Sangkapreecha) is preparing his family’s arrival, unpacking from boxes, setting the furniture right, and decorating the rooms for his teenage daughter Nan and his young son Nat. Quickly though we sense that something is amiss, when the first reaction Nan has upon seeing her new house is to remark cynically at her father’s ability to pay off the mortgage for such a property, and Thee and his wife Parn (Piyathida Woramusik) simply keep quiet.
It is more than teenage rebellion however- Nan’s grandma has been looking after her most of the while up till now, and she has in turn internalised her grandma’s disdain for her father. There is a deeper reason for that, but one which we will only learn about later. Meanwhile, Parn has about given up trying to reason with her mother, fully aware that it is fruitless; and Thee continues to strive hard at his new marketing job, fully aware that it is the only means by which he can sustain the type of life he has promised to provide for his family.
Every family has its cracks and writer-director Sopon Sukdapisit spends the first half hour letting his audience get to know the specific dynamics of this one. The character-driven approach by which he has chosen to tell the story means that viewers looking for scares will have to be a little more patient, but rest assured that the wait pays off handsomely later on. Indeed, those who have seen Shutter, Alone (both of which he wrote), and Coming Soon (which he wrote and directed) should know that besides being more than adept at spooking his viewers, Sukdapisit also places equal, if not more, emphasis on his storytelling- which is why they are often way above the average Thai horror flick.
The supernatural enters into the fray when a Burmese maid is found murdered in a house down the street, her face disfigured by acid and her body stuffed inside a refrigerator. Soon, her ghost is seen wandering the compounds of Laddaland, and here is why Sukdapisit keeps the thrills coming hard and fast. They get personal for Thee and his family when a dare by Nan’s friends bring her face to face with the ghost, and subsequently when Thee drags her back to the house convinced that she is lying.
Yet this is not a story about what the ghost wants, or a mystery on how she was murdered, but rather a closely-observed study on how these supernatural happenings deepen the cracks already present within the family. Even as Thee feels helpless against the haunting, he is equally powerless to extricate himself, unlike some of the other families within Laddaland who move out one by one. He still has the mortgage on one hand, and he can’t quite let go of the dream home he had finally managed to attain.
To add stress to strain, Thee turns up at work one day to find out that his pyramid-sales company has been shuttered, forcing him to take up a lowly convenience-store job. Besides the mounting financial strain, Thee also has to contend with the increasingly defiant Nan and his suspicion of Parn’s faithfulness after he sees her former boss leaving their house one day. It’s not hard to see how the cracks already there can slowly become dysfunction, and later on to disintegration.
Sukdapisit brings things to a boil when Thee’s next-door neighbour’s family turn out more damaged than apparent at first sight- and by the time the film reaches its third act, it will already have you in a grip-like vice. The anxiety is made even more unnerving with Sukdapisit’s well-executed horror tropes- fake jumps, tension-building moments, sudden loud soundtrack cues, and even a Shutter-like moment thanks to a camera attached around the neck of the neighbour’s black cat. These techniques are familiar no doubt, but Sukdapisit demonstrates an admirable flair in their usage to elicit scares that even the most hardened of horror moviegoers will find difficult not to get spooked.
Yes those looking for some genuine horror thrills need not be worried- Sukdapisit delivers one of the most terrifying Thai horror movies of late. But the strength of Sukdapisit’s film lies not just in its ability to spook you, but also in its multi-faceted nature, combining both gripping family drama and social irony into a potent brew. How often can you say that you’ve seen a horror film that actually leaves you in a ruminative mood? By the time the last few shots of the house rolls along (which contrast beautifully with the film’s opening shots) together with a montage of family photographs which show Thee and his family in happier times, “Laddaland” will have done just that- and you’ll walk away knowing that you’ve watched a truly exceptional horror film.
(Combining gripping family drama, social irony and some truly terrifying moments, this is one of the best Thai horror films we’ve seen in a long while)
Review by Gabriel Chong