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THE YOUNGLING AND THE HOWLING

The jump to adolescence is a daunting task. It’s a cold, rude-awakening plunge, especially if you come from a warm and cuddly childhood. Consider the terrible “plunge” of Ton, the 12 year-old hero of “Dorm.” He’s happily planted in a lifestyle of family, friends, and home comfort, until his adamant father uproots and tosses him to boarding school.

Homesick and alone among many, Ton finds the all-boys institution a drastic change of scenery. Everybody eat together, bathe together, and sleep together. On Ton’s first night, a gang of boys (with flashlight-lit faces) enlightens him of the school’s dark history. Ton hears accounts of a young woman’s death, a school boy’s drowning, and a ghost roaming the building. In addition, there are reports of the dorm mistress’ strange weeping and the eerie dog cries portending a specter among the premises. Hmmmm. Are these tales true or are they fabrications? Are the boys trying to spook their new and naïve classmate?

On the same night, a full bladder disrupts Ton from sleep. The boy stands up and ambers to the lonesome loo. At the edge of silence, he hears a creepy noise: Awwooo aw aw awwoo. He slowly peeks at the outside yard and – yikes – it’s a cho-chorus of ca-canines ha-howling. Ton dashes to bed and timorously hides under covers. He holds on to the blanket. He holds on to his urine. The next morning, he wakes up in horror as a chorus of boys howls at his piss-stained sheets. Great, just great. If being the new kid isn’t alienating enough, a bed wetting reputation will certainly do it.

Songyos Sugmakanan’s “Dorm” is one of the best horror movies to come out from Asia. Its genius ploy is employing puberty as a springboard for scares. It nicely creates an evocative allure to the hero’s cinematic plight. Who among us have not gone through stressful rites of passages? If you can’t relate to being away from home, being on your own, and peeing alone in the middle of the night, then you are too young to relate. The adolescent angle also adds an element of realistic drama that balances out the movie’s supernatural nature.

“Dorm” cranks out the horror by conventional standards: lurking shadows, creaking doors, anemic photography, and ominous scores. In spite of this, the movie doesn’t seem so conventional, thanks to a crafty plotting. The screenplay intentionally takes predictable paths as to make viewers assume typical outcomes. As the movie polishes on however, the predictability peels off and a surprising inner story is exposed layer and layer. By the time the movie meets its end, it haunts as a great coming-of-age tale, both chilling and warm-hearted. With all praises aside, I’m almost sure you’re not going to watch this foreign film. I predict this simply because you have not seen or heard of it. Hopefully, now that I’ve howled about it, this ghost of a film will not go unnoticed.

Grade: A

CAST
Charlie Trairat, Chintara Sukapatana, and Sirachuch Chienthaworn
Screenplay by
Chollada Teaosuwan, Vanridee Pongsittisak, and Songyos Sugmakanan
Directed by
Songyos Sugmakanan
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