September 14, 2013
In "Bahay ng Lagim," Fatima (Karel Marquez) is haunted by nightmares of a possessed young woman and the ghosts that haunt her. Fatima goes to Laguna to seek the help of a mystic woman Sister Sofia (Bing Loyzaga) to try to release the poor girl in her dreams. By putting Fatima under a spell, it is revealed that the possessed young woman is Donna (Victoria Haynes), whose body the devil takes over when she stayed in a haunted resort. Sofia and the Devil then face off in a climactic battle royale.
This is a classic possession story, with obvious references to "The Exorcist" This main story of Donna's possession was sandwiched between the present day scenario of Fatima and Sister Sofia, and a further past story of a possessed engineer who killed his family. However, the connection of these three stories was not too clearly stated. Everything felt just so randomly and haphazardly put together.
The camera work seemed to come straight out from the 1970s with its grainy color, poor lighting and standard angles. The ubiquitous scary music soundtrack seemed to have been lifted directly from the 1974 Castillo's classic "Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara". The ghostly make-up with powder white faces was so unimaginative. The sound quality was not too good. I could not understand anything the possessed Donna was saying. The costumes were so strange, like Fatima's Madonna-inspired outfit and Sister Sofia's full gypsy get-up with mantilla and shades.
At least the opening credits were amusing as they were revealed by Fatima's flashlight when she walked along a dark spooky corridor. Can you imagine that? There was also a scene where a painting of demon comes to crude computer-generated life, complete with a hairy back. So it was not all a throwback, there was some effort for modernity.
Karel Marquez does well with her limited role, despite what her character had to do and say. Bing Loyzaga went to town with her over-the-top performance as the psychic medium. However it was most unfortunate that the most important role in the film, that of Donna was played by an inexperienced actress named Victoria Heynes. Her amateurishly ineffective performance in that central role made the very foundation of the whole film totally weak.
The presence of indie stalwarts Jaclyn Jose and Ronnie Lazaro was wasted in very minuscule roles. I have to commend them for keeping a straight face in some pretty awkward laughable scenes, like Ms. Jose talking to an overacting extra playing a hysterical resort employee slapped by Donna, and Mr. Lazaro as a priest praying while obviously artificial flames burned behind him.
Director Celso Ad Castillo passed away just November last year. He is the director hailed as "The Messiah of Philippine Movies". He is most remembered for movies that raised the stock of stars, like FPJ with "Asedillo", Gloria Diaz with "Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa" and Ms. Vilma Santos with "Burlesk Queen.
Unfortunately, this movie "Bahay ng Lagim," the late Direk Celso's final film, will not be joining that prestigious list of memorable films. With all due respect to the organizers of the Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival All Masters Edition, this film does not exactly pay tribute to The Kid's acclaimed artistry and mastery of the craft of film making, which is a pity. Thankfully, it was all over in just an hour's time. 2/10.