Directed by: Sopon Sukdapisit, Runtime: 110 minutes
Several years back, a surprise came out of Thailand that made a name for itself in the supernatural horror subgenre: Shutter. While not innovative in comparison to other Asian ghost stories flooding the scene -- a stringy-haired, spooky female specter torments a photographer with a troubling past -- the simple premise of capturing ghosts in photos and the guilt of one's transgressions gave it the moody thrust the jump-scares needed to carry weight, creating something disquieting out of ordinary darkrooms and apartments. Sopon Sukdapisit, the third wheel writer accompanying the writer/director duo who made that film, now takes the helm behind Laddaland, a story of domestic squabbles, haunted subdivisions, and appearances being deceiving for those with good intentions and desires for their family. Unfortunately, this overlong and infuriatingly unrewarding genre pic ends up being one of the worst I've seen once it's finished, speaking little to the quality of contemporary Thai horror successes.
To satisfy any curiosity about the title, Laddaland is an idyllic subdivision in northern Thailand, where an aging marketer, Thee (Saharath Sangkapreecha), somehow finds an inexpensive home there for his family: his beautiful wife (Piyathida Woramusik) and two children. Since things have been rocky for them as of late -- including Thee's lower-income jobs and their daughter, Nan (Suthatta Udomsilp), living with her grandmother for several years -- this appears to be the ideal opportunity for all of them to become a cohesive family unit. And barring a few speedbumps, including Nan acting rebellious and noticing the neighbors acting a little volatile, things seem to be moving in the right direction. However, strange events start happening in the community, starting with the discovery of a mutilated corpse crammed inside a refridgerator in one of the homes. And as more events start to occur, more unsettling supernatural events also emerge in those vacant homes.
Co-writers Sopon Sukdapisit and Sopana Chaowwiwatkul try desperately to make the domestic happenings in Laddaland work as a backbone that informs the supernatural suspense to follow, from the family's financial issues to struggles with a rebellious teenager. Overly determined to make that component work, this lead-in to the spectral elements frustrates by being way too drawn-out and histrionic; stereotypical bickering with a teenage girl leads to after-school special type glances from the parents, heightened by the persistent and irrational nagging from Thee's mother-in-law about his place as a father and provider. This angle works well if handled properly -- Insidious being a prime example of domestic conflict built around children that elevates the lead-in atmosphere -- but here it's forced to a point of apathy, where boisterous acting matches the stiff, contrived portrait of domestic unrest.
Can you dismiss those elements and just dig into the paranormal, for kicks-'n-giggles? Somewhat. That disconnect becomes a problem once the scare-tactics emerge in Laddaland though, since they heavily rely on the feeble trust issues and mental unrest within the family. Director Sopon Sukdapisit creates creepy, dark spaces where anticipated long-haired ghosts emerge around those whom shouldn't be there, while prosthetic work creates a few grisly images of torn-apart ghosts that'll muster a few chills. And, as with Shutter, careful attention is paid to sound design; echoing footsteps and stirring spectral noises engulf the ambience. However, the thrust of the horror assumes that the audience shares some vested interest in the central family, about their physical and mental integrity and what's happening to the equally strung-out families around them, so the traumatized ghosts are going bump in the night with only cursory interest behind why this curse plagues the subdivision -- and its citizens.
Laddaland peters out in predictable jolts and non-scary haunts that any Asian horror veteran could foresee, plagued by juvenile elements like a digital camera dangling from a cat's neck that conveniently -- and all-too-predictably -- captures images of ghosts and those being hunted by them. That's fine, though; it's a low-boiling, dismissible aggravation with the film that remains tolerable enough to continue watching these creepy machinations. That is, until the ending. In a loud charge of spectral confusion and heightened emotions within a dimly-lit house, Sopon Sukdapisit hurls the climax into a vortex of overtly-dark emotional shock value that it doesn't earn in the slightest. Pulling the trigger on base emotional provocation built around Thee's family for the pure sake of grimness, one incident, an irresponsible articulation of what a truly artificial "got ya!" moment feels like, ruins whatever rudimentary satisfactions came before it. The ghosts of Laddaland appear fine with trying to take even the most innocent lives out of existence, but these storytellers aren't concerned with justifying the reason for doing so.
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