Angry ghosts run amok in a gated community in the tasty T-horror “Laddaland.” Centered on an ambitious father who drags his wife and kids to a fancy new home he can’t afford, sophomore feature by promising genre helmer Sophon Sakdaphisit (“Coming Soon”) reps a satisfying combo of spooky stuff and intense family drama. The biggest-ever horror hit for Thai major GMM Tai Hub, pic bowed domestically in April and grossed a boffo $4.3 million in Bangkok alone. This well-made chiller is ideal for fest sidebars, and should reap strong worldwide ancillary.
Based on strange events believed by many locals to have taken place in Chiang Mai late last century, the story opens with 40-ish marketing man Thee (Saharat Sangkapricha) moving loyal wife Parn (Piyathida Woramusik), rebellious teenage daughter Nan (Sutatta Udomsilp) and lively young son Nat (Athipich Chutiwatkajornchai) from Bangkok to Laddaland, an upmarket housing estate in a previously grungy part of Chiang Mai.
Convinced his new job with a self-hyped company that sells dietary supplements is the answer to all his troubles, Thee is deaf to Parn’s legitimate concern over hefty mortgage payments; he also believes the move will lift Nan’s deep-seated resentment of him and his wife, who left the girl with her grandmother for much of her childhood.
With absorbing domestic drama supplying the tale’s emotional backbone, Sakdaphisit ramps things up with signs that all’s far from well in the apparently ideal community. Following the grisly murder of a Burmese housemaid and Thee’s unpleasant encounter with wife-beating next-door neighbor Somkiat (Sahajak Boonthanakit), ghosts start circling Nan, who is unable to convince mom and dad she’s not making it all up.
The screenplay by Sakdaphisit and Sopana Chaowwiwatkul, both of whom penned stories for the superior 2009 horror omnibus “Phobia 2,” neatly parallels the increase in creepy activity with Thee’s plummeting fortunes after he loses his job and secretly starts work at a convenience store in a forlorn attempt to make ends meet. Events come to an exciting and emotionally satisfying head when fed-up Parn threatens to end the marriage at the same time as the ghosts go in for the kill.
Assaying their first lead roles in a feature after long careers in Thai teledramas, Sangkapricha and Woramusik impress individually and click together as the couple whose relationship is sorely tested by real and otherworldly forces. Juvenile debutant Udomsilp shows great promise as the troubled youngster.
Keeping gore to a minimum, the pic maintains a consistent air of malevolence, and is well served by a precision-tooled soundscape that raises goosebumps with perfectly timed whooshes and ear-splitting screeches.
Classy widescreen lensing by Kittiwat Semarat varies impressively from glossy magazine-like imagery of the Laddaland when Thee and family arrive, to moody pictures of interiors where menacing creatures hold sway. All other tech credits are on the money.