March 8, 2017
Among Filipino superstitions, a most curious one is "usog." This is supposed to be a curse imparted by a stranger who gives someone (usually a kid) a bad stare or an evil eye. This results in the victim to experience unexplained body malaise and fever, or stomach ache and vomiting. To counter this, the visitor is supposed to wet his fingertip with his saliva and touch it to the child's forehead in a cross pattern, saying "pwera usog" (or "to avoid usog").
Noted indie writer and director Jason Paul Laxamana tackles this interesting folk belief in his latest project -- his first foray into the horror genre. Like his previous films like "Babagwa" (2013) and "Ang Magkakabaung" (2014), a good part of this film was also shot in his home province of Pampanga.
Jean Cordero (Sofia Andres) is a bratty rich girl who enjoys making naughty prank videos with her close, similarly bratty friends Val (Cherise Castro) and Bobby (Albie Casino). One day, she convinces her level-headed ex-boyfriend Sherwin (Joseph Marco) to drive them out of town for a road trip. During a pitstop at an old abandoned building, the pals decide to play a cruel prank on a beggar woman Luna (Devon Seron) that went horribly wrong. From then on, Jean and her friends began to experience the wrath of a malevolent spirit causing a potent deadly "usog".
The millennial lead characters in this movie Jean, Val and Bobby-- with their obsession with being viral on social media, their wanton disrespect for their parents, their overwhelmingly selfish egos, their arrogant, whiny American accents -- were all so annoying and maddening to watch! I cannot believe anyone sane and educated would ever even think of or actually doing that excessively sadistic prank they did. They really had the curse coming to them, and they certainly deserved their punishment.
The three generations of arbularyo (or folk healers) in the film were Magda (Erlinda Villalobos), Minda (Aiko Melendrez) and Quintin (Kiko Estrada). They are not related by blood, but by circumstance. I wonder how accurate to reality those arbularyo rites (the egg in the bottle, the circle of salt, the preventive amulets) were because I thought they were interesting. I got a great laugh about the gallon of liquid that the arbularyo poured on a severe usog victim, and that liquid was revealed to have been Magda and Minda's stored collection of their saliva!!! I'm sure that simply can't be true. LOL!
Aside from that gallon of spit gag, there were a lot more humorous moments throughout the film. The scene where Jean, Sherwin, Minda and Quintin were prepping for battle was hilarious. Joseph Marco was so funny when macho Sherwin was acting like a scaredy-cat during his ghost encounters. Because of her "burgis" ways, Sofia Andres was visually funny when she sat inside the circle of salt to initiate a fight with the ghost. Those ethereal catfights in the netherworld between Minda, and later Jean, against the diabolical soul of Catalina (Eula Valdez) were also quite a riot to behold.
"Pwera Usog" had all the Pinoy horror film essentials in there: eerie locations and production design, macabre musical score, gallons of blood and vomit, false alarms and jump scares, and of course, the ghostly witch makeup. It even had a pseudo-scientific explanation by a hammy-acting Dr. Michael Yu, neurologist. I think writer and director Laxamana did it on purpose that the film was not really an all-out serious horror film, and this worked in his favor. The sense of humor, intended or not, made this quite an entertaining film to watch. I may not have been truly spooked, but I sure had fun. 7/10.