Laddaland: Film Review

A Thai supernatural version of Tokyo Sonata.

Sleekly designed but rough around some edges, this Thai haunted house tale is functional and cozily familiar.

BUSAN, South Korea -- Like the showroom furniture in the trendy condos that figure so significantly in this tale of real estate gone ghoulishly wrong, Thai horror Laddaland is hiply designed and assembled, cost-effective, functional and cozily familiar. Director Sophon Sakdaphisit (who co-wrote The Shutter and directed another clever horror Coming Soon) fuses stock genre conventions with kitchen sink drama in a credible and moving way, thus making up for the lack of elaborate twists in Sopana Chaowwiwatkul's screenplay by giving the treatment some heart. Indeed, the twin-curse of hiked up property prices and downward spiraling economy turns out to be more hair-raising than hauntings in this topical film.

The picture was a massive hit back home, partly because circumstances are modeled on an actual condo development in Changmai rumored to be haunted. Inferior in aesthetic quality and originality to The Shutter and Alone, Laddaland may not have as much staying power on DVD shelves as the two T-horror breakout hits. However, it still boasted excellent world sales and has remake potential.

For years, struggling breadwinner Thee (Saharat Sangapreecha) has endured the taunts of his snotty mother-in-law for his failure to give his family a decent home in Bangkok. A new life beckons in Chiangmai, where he gets a chance to buy an affordable house in the yuppie residential development Laddaland. He ups and moves against the wishes of his wife Parn (Piyathida Woramusik), his teenage daughter Nan (Suthanatta Udomsilp) and young son Nat. Within days, his expat neighbor's Burmese maid Makin is gruesomely murdered and left to decompose in the fridge. Into the bargain, his other next-door neighbors are a thoroughly creepy lot. Before long, his family's frustration with being exiled to the sticks up-North escalate into terror, when Makin's ghost becomes a dreaded sight in the vicinity.

While horror films tend to prolong tension through the gradual unlocking of secrets, mystery is not high on Laddaland's agenda. One is not encouraged to care about Makin's past or her murderer's motive. Effective timing nevertheless enables her to deliver primitive, knee-jerk scares, punctuated with false alarms and a soundtrack that booms thunderously even when nothing happens. Halfway through, this story strand is abruptly snipped off altogether. The melodrama sinks in as Thee's deep-rooted domestic problems bubble over. The other neighbors become his family's alter ego, and their eerie shenanigans provide some new climaxes with echoes of The Shining.

The ending doesn’t tie up loose ends too neatly. Yet, Sangapreecha’s touching expression of insecurity and pain lifts the film out of escapist fantasy and gives it an emotional anchor. In charting Thee’s psychological meltdown, Laddaland makes a perceptive study of male ego. Thee’s pressure to live up to the masculine role of protector and provider adversely causes multiple denial – about his career prospects and his family’s blatant unhappiness. The ghosts which he refuses to acknowledge can be read symbolically as the proverbial elephant in the room. Ironically, the scariest figure in the whole film is Thee’s mother-in-law, whose mean-spirited tirades on the phone and Medusa-like gaze at Thee in a final shot constitutes a blighted presence in the entire story.

Like all of production-sales giant GTH’s projects, the technical package is sleek and up-market. However, some of the CGI are rough round the edges.

Busan International Film Festival, Midnight Passion
Sales & production: GMM Tai Hub Co. Ltd.
Cast: Saharat Sangkapreecha, Piyathida Woramusik, Suthanatta Udomsilp, Apipich Chutiwatkajornchai.
Director: Sophon Sakdaphisit
Screenwriter: Sopana Chaowwiwatkul
Producers: Jira Maligool, Chenchonee Soonthornsaratul, Suvimon Techasupinun, Vanridee Pongsittisak.
Executive producer: Yongyoot Thongkontoon
Director of photography: Kittiawat Semarat
Production designer: Wuttinun Sujaripong
Music: Vanilla Sky
Editor: Thammarat Sumethsupachok
No rating, 125 minutes.