For millennials, like myself, film adaptations of video game conjure painful memories of awful adaptions of otherwise fun games. Great games like Silent Hill, Prince of Persia, Hitman, May Payne, Resident Evil, and Doom have all been made into mediocre or downright terrible films.
There are a few exceptions, Tomb Raider, Mortal Combat, and Rampage are pretty fun, also I still argue that The Super Mario Brothers Movie is NOT as bad as people may think. Plus, the recent Detective Pikachu was actually really good, arguably the best in the genre. Either way, it’s hard to shake an initial feeling of doom from a substantive history of bad movies based on video games. Still though, I was apprehensive but open-minded to see Detention, as it’s a game I got into recently and loved.
The story of Detention, both the film and the game, is set in 1962 during the White Terror period in Taiwan. The film follows Fang Ray-shin (Gingle Wang), a high school student who’s a member of a banned books study group at Greenwood High School. After falling asleep in class, she wakes up to find her study group teacher, Chang Ming-hu (Fu Meng-po) vanished, and the school dilapidated and haunted. She sets out to find her teacher and discover what happened to her school. The movie follows relatively the same plot as the game, but with numerous structural and narrative changes.
Before discussing the movie, more about the game. A 2D side-scroller from 2017, the game is terrifying, at times feeling like the Taiwanese answer to Silent Hill. The game is incredible, drawing its horror from Taiwanese mythology and history as an influence for the monsters in the game. Additionally, the game delves heavily into Ray’s psychology and depression, often shifting reality to explore her personal demons, and play into them throughout the mysteries the player has to solve. The animation is unnerving and mysteries are clever, slowly revealing elements of the story and Ray’s background to shocking effect. The game is unnervingly creepy, and it’s a perfect sit for a stormy night.
The movie tries to match to the game’s creepiness, and while it is a fun sit, it, unfortunately, doesn’t fully deliver. The production design is the film’s greatest strength. The school hallways look bleak and dilapidated. These scenes are very bleak, and you feel that danger is lurking around every corner. Moreover, Gingle Wang’s performance is excellent. When she needs to be intense, she goes full force, thrusting her dramatic intensity like a wrecking ball. Despite these additions, the movie doesn’t succeed in captivating me with proper atmosphere and mood.
The movie’s biggest issue it’s pacing. Rather than maintaining a slow, creeping pace, the film moves fast, oftentimes unevenly. Due to its fast editing, I wasn’t given time to absorb the impressive production design and lose myself in the film. Moreover, unlike in the video game, the movie has numerous flashbacks, even starting off prior to the haunting. While these flashbacks allow for greater exploration of the film’s politics, they felt imbalanced from the actual horror moments. These flashbacks kept removing me from the setting, and the fast editing made it difficult to get back in the flow. Also, the CGI for the monsters is really bad and pretty unnecessary. The film would’ve benefited from some practical creature effects and better pacing.
Detention had a lot of potential, with great actors and a great production design. The story is so ripe for cinematic material and can be enjoyed as a legitimately terrifying horror story, or a fun survival thrill fest. The film isn’t even incoherent, it’s written fine, but it’s such a shame that the editing and direction didn’t hold up. Despite the fact that a lot of effort clearly went into the movie, all I can say is stick to the game.
Detention is currently playing as part of the Nightstream Fest and will be available until October 15th
The game is available to play from Steam