With Maria Leonora Teresa shown just a few weeks ago, Pinoy horror film fans are in for a hot streak with the release of the Nora Aunor-starrer, Dementia.
The hype for this film is huge – it was even shortlisted (or at least considered) as the Philippines’ foreign language film entry in the upcoming Academy Awards, a slot that was eventually earned by Lav Diaz’s Norte. Plus, anything that has Nora Aunor as the main star is sure to gain buzz. I was way more than excited to see what it’s all about.
Mara is a retired teacher diagnosed with dementia, a mental illness manifesting mostly as memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease. In order to help her recuperate, her niece, Elaine (Bing Loyzaga), together with her husband Rommel (Yul Servo) and daughter Rachel (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), brings her to Batanes to stay in their ancestral house.
Not long after, Mara and Rachel start to see ghosts – that of a girl and a young woman in a wedding dress. It’s up to the family to solve the puzzle of who these ghosts are – before it’s too late.
The movie isn’t really scary. It utilizes all the tricks known from past ghost stories – such as the use of music and sound to build tension, the “oh it’s just a (some random character or object)” moment, the convenience of the ghost being able to show up anywhere at random, the lack of proper lighting at night, and more.
You name it, the movie’s got it. It’s not a problem to reuse some of these devices, but I am looking for something more progressive to mix things up. We all know these red herrings are leading to something big, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t pick up as expected. The climax/ending of the film – the revelation, the confrontation, the final struggle, and the conclusion – is a big letdown.
Batanes, being the backdrop, is not integral to the story. It could have been any other province in any other region in the Philippines that has a cliff. The scenes around the province were only mostly used as intercuts in transitioning from one major scene to another: If I observed correctly, it goes major scene, two Batanes scenery shots, major scene. Given that it’s a horror film, I expected local culture to get reflected in the movie – particularly local folklore and superstition. But here, it seems like they chose the setting just because it looked really good.
Notable in the movie, though, are the cinematography and sound design. The use of shadows and contrast in the outdoor and evening scenes set the eerie tone remarkably well. It makes Batanes feel like an uncanny, desolate, cold place. The positioning of sound to reflect character locations (e.g., offscreen sounds come from the far left or far right) is also very inventive.
The cast in general is well-put, and the acting in the movie is subtle but nuanced. There are some notable scenes that make use of the cast’s calibre. The standout, though, is Jasmine Curtis-Smith, who benefits from having the most fleshed out and demanding role. What initially seemed like a typical bitchy role slowly evolves into that of a girl who unwittingly becomes subject to the madness accused of her aunt.
Unfortunately, Mara still lacks the depth and characterization that Nora Aunor deserves. With this movie and Hustisya, I’m beginning to think the Superstar needs to choose the right movies and the right directors. I’m optimistic that her future role as a Yolanda survivor under the helm of Brillante Mendoza would put her on track.
Overall, if you’re looking for a “scary movie,” it is a bit difficult to recommend Dementia. It has a strong cast, lovely cinematography, and notable sound design, but it just lacks the punch.
Stray observations (SPOILER ALERT! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!)
- Bing Loyzaga’s script must have had around 100 “Ate Maras” in there!
- Jasmine Curtis-Smith looks a lot like Colleen Garcia.
- It doesn’t seem believable that Elaine and Rommel lived in the States. I would have expected just a little bit of dialogue in English.
- The moment I saw Jeric Gonzales (Vincent), I knew he’s Rachel’s love interest.
- It’s nice that there’s one little scene where Rommel tells Mara she hasn’t liked him for Elaine ever since. It gives a bit more depth to the character and made me understand why he isn’t too keen in helping Mara out.
- Why did Olivia (Chynna Ortaleza) haunt Rachel? Why did she possess Rachel in particular? Why didn’t she just haunt Mara if she’s the only one she’s meaning to hurt?
- What was the black ink about? I didn’t quite figure it out in the movie.
- Is the whole purpose of Young Olivia haunting Mara to remind her of the rock and their game?
- Isn’t it quite impossible for the town not to know Olivia was still alive way over her teens? They must have heard something all these years! She even went out twice – so someone must have seen her!
- I’m glad to see Althea Vega as the young Mara, but she’s too tall for the role. Lol at the fake mole!
- Olivia the ghost is too simple-minded, and the whole point of the movie is that Mara didn’t follow the rules of their game.
- Why does Olivia have white face paint on?
- Chynna Ortaleza playing Olivia is more comedic than scary. Is this intended?
- Weren’t Elaine and Rachel questioned about Rommel’s death? Shouldn’t they be detained and not allowed to leave the country yet as prime suspects?
- There are hints that Mara is a very stern (or even ruthless) woman – her relationship with Rommel, her conversation with her doctor (expecting Elaine to take care of her), and pushing Olivia off the cliff.
- Nora Aunor has really good penmanship.
Director: Perci Intalan
With: Nora Aunor, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Bing Loyzaga, Yul Servo, Jeric Gonzales, Chynna Ortaleza, Althea Vega