January 4, 2017
Based on the trailer alone, this was the first choice of the eight entries in this year's Metro Manila Filmfest that I wanted to watch. The whole look of the film was something else with its dark sepia palette of colors and period production design. The horror angle of the story also looked intriguing, especially with the disturbing presence of a young girl in a role of indeterminate nature of good or evil.
It was 1947. Four deacons, Miguel, Carlo, Marco and Fabian, were sent to an undisclosed location in order to resist the temptations of the devil a week before their ordination. Meanwhile in San Ildefonso, Quezon, Fr. Ricardo was investigating the mysterious healing powers of a child faith healer Anghela Sta. Ana, who was under the care of the equally mysterious Sister Cecilia. When Anghela finds her way into the deacons' seclusion site, the young men experienced extreme tests of their faith they never could have anticipated.
Eric Matti deserved his Best Director award, his second in a row after last year's "Honor Thy Father". He created the perfect atmosphere of dread and demonic presence with the impressive and award-winning cinematography (Neil Derrick Bion) and production design (Ericson Navarro), along with the lighting design and musical score (Francis de Veyra). The credits font, with the color palette and the bloody gore all echo the feel of the 1995 American film "Se7en". In addition, Catholic religious imagery is laced with touches of blasphemy and evil to add a further sinister air.
Child actress Rhed Bustamante deservedly won a special jury prize with her sublime performance of a role with central significance in the story. She should have been considered for Best Actress. Phoebe Walker won Best Supporting Actress as the creepy Madre Cecilia with her penetrating gaze and unsettling whispering. Elora Espano played a ghost speaking through a statue of the Virgin Mary, the most disturbing of all the ghastly imagery seen in this film.
Hashtag member Ronnie Alonte had strong screen presence in the lead role of Miguel. However, he felt oddly miscast, especially with his modern hairstyle looking out of place for this period role. Young actor Dominic Roque (as Fabian with his mother issues), national volleyball team player John Vic de Guzman (as Carlo with his siblings issues), and model JR Versales (as Marco with his perverse fetish issues) possessed more authentic looks as deacons for that era. Neil Ryan Sese also did well in the role of the doggedly obsessed investigator Fr. Ricardo, as did Lou Veloso as the cantankerous retired priest and retreat caretaker Sandoval.
Anton Santamaria's award-winning script did waver a bit at certain points when it comes to story telling. However, its theme is definitely daring and radical in the face of the Catholic majority in this country. Even without its supernatural elements, this film's cautionary message about false prophets and how they work insidiously within our midst is always pertinent among the common masses easily swayed by superstition and fanaticism. It is a warning that needs to be told and heard. 8/10.