The recent popularity of Thai horror continues with “Ladda Land”, directed by Sophon Sakdaphisit, who also helmed the entertaining genre flick “Coming Soon”, as well as scripting Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom’s superb “Shutter” and “Alone”, and working on the hit “4bia” anthologies. Drawing upon an urban legend, the film relocates from the usual Bangkok setting to Chiang Mai, revolving around supernatural occurrences in a new upmarket housing estate and attempting to balance its ghosts with financial and domestic terrors.
The film follows Saharat Sangkapreecha (“The Legend of Suriyothai”) as Thee, a marketing manager who leaves Bangkok to take a higher paying job in a new Chiang Mai area called Ladda Land, bringing with him his wife Parn (Piyathida Woramuksik, “The Sisters”), angsty 14 year old daughter Nan (Suthatta Udomsilp) and young son Nat (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk). Despite ongoing pressure from his nagging mother in law, Thee is determined to make a happy life for his beloved family, and seems to be doing not too badly, at least until the brutal murder of a local Burmese maid sets off a chain of strange events.
Although it’s premise may sound like pretty standard modern Thai ghost fare, “Ladda Land” does have quite a different and far more grounded feel, benefitting from a character focused approach from Sophon Sakdaphisit. The film does very well in this respect, with Thee making for an interesting protagonist, a man who despite being likeable and very easy to root for quite clearly has some serious issues, which come to the fore as things degenerate. The film establishes this early on, with the opening scenes showing him obsessively preparing the house prior to the arrival of his family, lavishing huge amounts of loving attention to the smallest touches before sitting down by himself for an imaginary conversation with them. This kind of detail is seen in all of the characters, and the relationships between the different family members are all rewardingly complex, giving the film a surprising level of emotional depth.
This kind of investment also pays off when it comes to atmosphere and scares, Sakdaphisit managing to maintain a high level of tension throughout. While the ghost aspect of the film is a little generic, relying mainly on characters wandering into the murder house for no good reason or being frightened by the gratuitous appearances of a creepy black cat, the film wrings a genuine sense of fear and foreboding from the various pressures piling up on Thee, making at times depressingly severe use of the bleak economic climate. Real world horrors such as mounting debts, job worries, a particularly nasty mother in law and more all gradually build up, pushing him closer to the edge and poisoning his love for his family. The dread generated from this makes the film gripping throughout despite an overly long running time of nearly two hours, painting a powerfully dark and sinister picture of a dream going badly wrong.
“Ladda Land” is definitely one of the best Thai films of the year, and shows again that horror cinema only benefits from decent writing and attention to characters. All the more effective for its constant economic and emotional anxiety, it’s a film which unlike other similarly themed efforts is only too believable. Sophon Sakdaphisit impresses again as director and proves himself one of his country’s more interesting and thoughtful genre directors.
Sopon Sukdapisit (director) / Sopana Chaowwiwatkul (screenplay)
CAST: Saharath Sangkapreecha