UK Release date: Tbc
Director: Sopon Sukdapisit
Starring: Saharath Sangkapreecha, Piyathida Woramusik, Suthatta Udomslip
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Vengeful ghosts have had a tough time of it recently but in some parts of the world they still refuse to move on, which means it’s business as usual for the team that brought us Coming Soon and Phobia. Coming Soon director and Shutter screenwriter Sophon Sakdaphisit takes to the director’s chair for Thai horror hit Laddaland, based on a Chiang Mai urban legend about a haunted housing estate. Jumping at the chance of a higher paid job, Thee (Saharat Sangkapreecha) moves to northern Thailand with his wife (Piyathida Woramuksik) and kids, and finally gets that dream home he's been striving for. Had he bothered to read the small print however, he would’ve come across the part that states ‘built on an Indian burial ground’. You’d think the creepy old lady would be enough to send them packing, either that or the token black cat that warns of impending doom. No such luck unfortunately.
The happy family of four move into the housing estate, and all is well until a neighbour’s domestic helper is brutally murdered. Random deaths are happening all over the place, but Laddaland exists in a world yet to discover the delights of TVs American Horror Story, so you can’t really blame them for not seeing the signs, right? Dead wrong as it turns out. Some people just don’t know when to quit, and you can’t have a formulaic horror movie without helpless victims, but if you’re planning on leaving your brain at the door - think again.
Laddaland might look like a typical Thai horror movie on paper, but it actually works better as a domestic drama. Clichéd scares let the production down; it’s the well-drawn characters that get under your skin. Leading the way is Sangkapreecha as Thee, the put upon husband with everything to lose if things don’t work out. Thee’s an ambitious man, but he’s kind of stupid with it. He knows he can’t afford the repayments on the house but he pushes ahead with the move anyway, believing that a fresh start will bring his family back together again. He has a tough time ahead of him though if he plans to make things right. His daughter resents both him and his wife for failing to raise her properly, it turns out she spent most of her childhood in the company of her grandmother. Parn’s concerns over the mortgage are largely ignored and there’s a good chance Thee’s new job isn’t the ‘nice little earner’ it purports to be.
Thee is a complex individual weighed down by emotional anxiety and inner turmoil. Sangkapreecha nails the role emphatically, bringing a likeability to the table that quickly fades away as the inner demons take hold. The domestic chaos is handled brilliantly throughout, and it’s far more appealing than the ‘tacked on’ horror elements that threaten to derail the picture at every turn. In Laddaland, inner demons prove far more fruitful than lank haired ones. Over familiarity comes back to haunt us with the aid of deafening noises and quick fire editing. If it’s done correctly it can still be effective, but Laddaland feels lazy in comparison to films like Shutter. Sakdaphisit fails to add anything new to a stagnant sub-genre, relying far too heavily on well-worn tricks to fill the hole left behind by an absence of originality. You have to remember that Laddaland is still a horror movie, and from that perspective, genuine scares are few and far between.
Coming Soon was a short, sharp, satisfying movie not without its flaws, but the opening act was brutal enough to keep desirous gore hounds in check. Laddaland tones it down for the most part and is far too long, relying on token scares to see it through the darkness. In many ways it feels like a predecessor to Coming Soon, almost as though Sakdaphisit is dipping his toes in the murky waters of dread. Laddaland doesn’t really know what it wants to be but it definitely succeeds more as a domestic drama with daunting undertones, rather than an out an out horror movie.
Animal lovers will probably take the side of the vengeful ghost, which was probably not Sakdaphisit’s intention, but either way, Laddaland proves an intermittently enjoyable ride for reasons not anticipated. Strong performances sure help, but ham-fisted horror clichés darken the door of an otherwise engaging night in.