It's not just another haunted house next door. No, really.
Know what's scarier than figures lurking in the corner? The fact that your efforts to bring your family together become the very reasons they are slowly turning against you. While Sophon Sakdapisit doesn't do much to bring anything original to the haunted house yarn Ladda Land, he effectively ventures into each of his characters' psyche, turns them into real people with real concerns, and successfully fleshes out their fears whether of this world or those of beyond.
The title refers to a middle class subdivision in Chiang Mai, where a well-meaning man played by Saharat Sangkapreecha moves with his family to work for a drug supplement company. He has another reason for wanting to stay there his mother-in-law hasn't forgiven him for marrying her daughter (Piyathida Woramusik) and makes his life miserable by rubbing in his faults and failures as a father to his two children. He's especially estranged to his 14-year-old daughter (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), who grew up spoiled by her grandma. But aside from that, everything's going well with the household that is until a brutal murder occurs at a nearby house and scary things start happening.
It sounds standard but the narrative's arc from the near-perfect happiness of its characters and the world they inhabit to their slow and painful descent to paranoia and madness is near-perfectly smooth. Sakdapisit's skill in creating such trajectory is evident in how he begins the movie, with Sangkapreecha unpacking things and meticulously decorating the house, signifying his desire to start a new life for his family. It's a stark contrast to how it all ends, with bare and empty rooms except for a few objects thrown around, underpinning the tragic outcome despite the best intentions.
There's convincing performances from everyone involved, too. Sangkapricha plays it with such subtlety that even when his character acts like an idiot as required of horror films (Why not call the police first instead of venturing into a murder site alone?), he never comes off as annoying. Woramusik and Sakuljaroensuk's characters are also defined more than other horror movies care to carve out secondary roles.
As a horror film, Ladda Land teeters midway between the best to reach these shores and the worst of them. What's certain is that it works better when it focuses on the family rather than on the spooky things that go bump in the dark. It's wise enough to invest emotionally and ratchets up the tension so well that it even if it doesn't consistently bring in the scares, there's a constant feeling of anxiety.
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