There’s a lot of background information one needs to really understand Jon Hsu’s Detention. For starters, the hyper successful at the domestic box office Taiwanese film is based off of a video game of the same name. You’ll probably also need to have a background knowledge of the White Terror period, and the Koumintang’s (KMT’s) repressive implementation of martial law.
If you’ve seen other Taiwanese classics such as Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, then you’ve probably got a rudimentary background. If you haven’t then this next section is almost certainly for you. Following their defeat to Mao’s Communists in the Chinese Civil War, Chiang Kai-Shek’s KMT government fled to the island nation of Taiwan. In order to quell uprisings, they instituted a number of illiberal reforms and ruthlessly imprisoned many for offenses against the state.
It is in the time that Detention takes place. Specifically, the film follows Wei (Tseng Chin-Hua) and Fang (Gingle Wang) as they explore their school at night looking for answers. This school, however, turns into an expressionistic nightmare, where Wei and Fang explore the past and just how it soured the present.
Hsu expertly balances the melodrama and the horror elements. I’ve always been a major proponent of team “you need to care about your characters in a horror film,” and Detention is another feather in that cap. You genuinely feel for these characters and their plights, while the mystery element is compelling and set-up the film’s may chills. Some of the film’s CGI undoubtedly feels shoddy, but this is a very effective picture nonetheless; one filled with expressionistic scares and atmosphere, asking us to consider the dual horrors of guilt and terror.