January 24, 2017
The career of Ian Veneracion has been on a continuous upswing since his career came back in a major way as Eduardo Buenavista to Jodi Sta. Maria's Amor Powers in the 2015 remake of the telenovela "Pangako Sa 'Yo." He is now again the most popular romantic lead actor on TV with the debut of his new telenovela "A Love to Last" with a leading lady more than 10 years his junior, Bea Alonzo. Veneracion's presence in this new indie horror "Ilawod" feature somehow gives it a sheen of prestige.
Dennis and Kathy are happily married with two pre-teen kids Ben and Bea. Dennis is a reporter whose beat covered supernatural events. One day, after he came home from covering the exorcism of a woman possessed by an elemental in a remote rural village, strange things began happening to his family. Meanwhile, 12-year old Ben was falling for the charms of a mysterious new girl in their condo building named Isla, who was always hanging around the pool area in her white chemise. Can Dennis figure out what was wrong and reverse it before it's too late?
Having a male as the main character of a horror film is not too easy to pull off, especially if it was a macho patrician-looking guy like Ian Veneracion. He is not expected to scream or panic in the face of a ghost (and he really does not) and this could limit the sense of fear the filmmaker may be trying to build up in the audience. To his credit though, Veneracion, being a good dramatic actor, successfully conveyed the puzzled concern any father would feel in these bizarre circumstances his family is facing. He never really experienced any direct frights from the evil spirit. His horror was watching his family unravel.
As Kathy, Iza Calzado was made to do very strange things like sweat in a cold air-conditioned room, stand on the edge of the rooftop of a building and walk across her bedroom naked to romance her sleeping husband. None of these strange occurrences were even brought up ever again. The only character who actually sees a ghost was actually the youngest child Bea, portrayed by child actress Xyriel Manabat. While she did do her best to act, all the script required her to do it seems was mainly to look spooked, look puzzled or cry, which did not do her talent justice.
New child actor Harvey Bautista was actually quite effective as Ben, the target of the spirit. He had a natural swagger about him, aloof and distant, as his character should be. Isla was played by 16-year old Therese Malvar. Malvar had already won Best Actress in a filmfest over Nora Aunor, so you can imagine how powerful an actress this young lady is, even with very little dialog and only her face and eyes to do the acting. The seduction scenes between Ben and Isla were most uncomfortable to see because of an electric sexual charge that ran through them. This was very disturbing because the characters (and the actors) were minors, especially that shower scene with the toe curling bits.
Rom-com master Dan Villegas tackles the horror genre for the first time here. There were actually only very few scenes with actual horrific images on screen. Mainly, it was the soundtrack that created the atmosphere of horror in this film. The sound work by Mikko Quizon and Jason Cunanan and the eerie musical score by Emerzon Texon were responsible for giving that distinct tone of horror into what was basically a family drama with supernatural aspects. The character onscreen may simply just be walking around, sleeping or typing on a computer, but the creepy score was relentless in its atmosphere of foreboding even if there was nothing really happening.
As I understood from that single line that defined what an Ilawod was, it was an elemental from the undertow of a river, as opposed to Ilaya from the surface flow. It was a bit disappointing that there was not much information about the Ilawod folklore apart from that definition. Dennis did not seem to do anything overtly wrong that made the spirit so mad at him. I could only surmise that probably in that moment when he made eye contact with her during that exorcism scene, the Ilawod was smitten with him -- and you know how irresistible Ian Veneracion's penetrating gaze could be for any woman. 6/10.