A gentle horror movie about a shy boy at a strict boarding school, “Dorm” is a top-tier Thai fantasy with export stamped all over it. Aside from minor inconsistencies in its mid-section, this elegant mood piece forges a meaningful relationship between the supernatural and its central characters’ guilt and loneliness. Making his solo bow after co-directing 2003 local smash “My Girl,” helmer Songyos Sugmakanan is a talent to watch. “Dorm” should snuggle up comfortably into fest slots, with chances of specialized distribution thereafter. Pic opened locally Feb. 23.
Working from a screenplay based on his own memories of dormitory life, Sugmakanan artfully arranges an uneasy ambience around 13-year-old Ton (Chalee Trairat). In almost every shot for the first 15 minutes, the boy barely utters a word.
Holding the floor are his parents (Suttipong Tudpitakkul, Nipawan Taweepornsawan), who send their son to boarding school, dropping him off without so much as a goodbye hug.
Ton is shown around the barracks-like institution by Ms. Pranee (Jintara Sugapat), a stern taskmistress able to make her students cower at a glance. According to the other boys, the stony-faced instructress harbors a deep sorrow connected to the drowning of a boy 10 years previously.
It’s said the boy’s ghost is among several walking the corridors — and soon enough, Ton sees taps that won’t turn off and doors closing by themselves.
When the ghost of Vichai (Siranath Jianthavorn) shows itself to Ton, the two become best friends. Revelation comes about half-way through, but in no way solves all pic’s mysteries or dampens interest. Instead, the pair’s bond becomes a lovely evocation of the secret world of children and plays the decisive role in bringing the unhappiness of Ton’s parents and the grief of Pranee to a resolution.
Made with a maturity suggesting far greater experience, Sugmakanan elicits fine performances from his juvenile cast. Trairat, one of the stars of “My Girl,” is touching as the timid youngster whose rites of passage take a most unusual turn.
The kids are a lively, cheeky lot, and Sugapat gives a nicely judged perf as the tightly-wound teacher with a broken heart.
Production values are unusually high for a commercially tilted Thai pic. Lensing is drained of just enough color, and production design is spartan enough to invoke a mood of disquiet without making the school look like a prison. All other tech credits are on the money.