January 13, 2015
The year was 1999. Annie Francisco (Andi Eigenmann) was an employee of the Dept. of Tourism assigned to the revive the Manila Film Center as a viable tourist destination. She sought the help of Fr. Nilo Marcelo (John Estrada) and his group of "spirit communicators" to help exorcise the place of ghosts of construction workers buried under the collapsed ceiling and left buried when the building was being built back in 1981. However, as Fr. Nilo and friends proceed with their supernatural intervention against the restless spirits, Annie herself is haunted by her own violent past experiences, as well as by a powerful diabolical spirit.
"Tragic Theater" is the first Filipino film released in 2015. It was preceded by controversy because its trailer was infamously rated X twice by the MTRCB for being "too scary." Of course, this hullabaloo effectively piqued everyone's interest more to watch the whole film to see what the fuss was all about. Since its opening though, there had been several discouraging negative reviews that came out. However, curiosity still got the better of me. I had to see it for myself.
This film had a clean polished look. I liked the imaginative camera angles, the extreme closeups of characters, the intensely creepy music, the subtle horror effects, the make-up of the ghosts and the set design of the theater itself. Apart from the annoying disturbance of Annie's accursed cell phone and her stupid stubbornness, I thought the first part of the film was quite effectively scary, disturbing and even gory. You will look away from the screen when it gets to the part when one ghost was describing how their corpses were desecrated by those who were tasked to finish the job after the accident.
Everything came to a peak when Annie was lifted up crucifixion-style and left hanging in midair by an unseen force. That scene was awesome to behold on the big screen, very cleanly executed and beautifully photographed. The esteemed director Tikoy Aguiluz was able to create truly haunting images here from inventive vantage points, in cooperation with his cinematographer Boy Yniguez.
After reaching that remarkable zenith though, the film unfortunately crumbled into a confusing mess. There were details that had been forgotten as the film progressed. What happened to that senior spirit medium Erwin? After his compelling scene during the first visit to the theater, he was lost and unmentioned in the rest of the film. Also, what were those longing looks of Annie towards Fr. Nilo all about? Why build up this tension to go nowhere? We even see a lengthy detour into the history of the Archbishop exorcist Miguel Agcaoili (Christopher de Leon) which I felt was not even that necessary at all.
The film just seemed to lose its focus as it went on. The story totally shifted from a grand scale (being about the many souls trapped in the theater) to a more limited personal scale (of Annie being possessed by a demon). Instead of being the central topic, the theater became relegated to secondary priority, largely acting only as the setting for Annie's story.
There was an overlong and over-the-top exorcism scene in the theater officiated by the Archbishop. But this special church rite was done only for Annie. The exorcism of the disturbed worker souls merely became a secondary event happening outside the theater. This was only done by the junior members of the team, played by young actors too pretty to be convincing. Their poorly-explained "radical theory" technique freed only but four of the many souls whom we saw filling the seats of the auditorium. Is that all? This for me was extremely disappointing.
One of the best, most unsettling scenes in the film was when we see the ghosts sitting in their seats repeatedly shouting "Bakit kasi minadali?!" ("Why did they have to rush?!"). Maybe we can ask the same question to the filmmakers behind this film. After a meticulously well-made first part, they seemed to have rushed the climax and ending, editing together various scenes in a way that failed to be scary. They focused too much on Annie and her travails, when they should have concentrated more on the Theater and its ghosts. After all, the title of the film is "Tragic THEATER", not "Tragic Annie". 5/10.