MMFF 2016 “Seklusyon”| Scary But Quite Underwhelming

Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

And also the ever-ready helping hand that offers a quick fix for your problem.

That’s because the devil doesn’t always show its horns.

In Erik Matti’s Seklusyon, evil takes on a very charming form in the persona of a child-healer Anghela (Rhed Bustamante) who’s revered by the community for her healing powers and looked over by Cecilia (Phoebe Walker), a mysterious nun. Meanwhile, Father Ricardo (Neil Ryan Sese) is on a mission to find proof of Anghela’s miracles so she can be canonized as a living saint but his suspicions of Mother Cecilia cloud his judgment and he finds himself trying to disprove the child’s miraculous ways.

Ricardo finds a terrified Anghela inside the church one night. It turns out her parents were murdered and the bishop decides to send Anghela, under the care of Cecilia, to an undisclosed location somewhere in Luzon for protection. It was a seclusion house where 4 deacons are on a week-long retreat in preparation for their ordination as novice priests. Traditions say that this seclusion period is meant to test the deacons’ faith as the temptation is greatest during this time.

True enough, the young lads experience torment inside the house but not because of malevolent elements; their inner demons are the ones wreaking havoc in their frail minds. Each one is tortured by ghosts from the past and ultimately succumbs to the quick fix the young Anghela can provide.

Organic chills: check

It’s rare to come across horror films that don’t utilize the traditional scare tactics pretty common from Asian horror flicks–white-faced ghouls, terrifying creatures, etc.–that usually rely on shock value (i.e. the sudden appearance of a ghost matched with thunderous music background) as opposed to inducing fear.

Matti’s Seklusyon is effective in building organic fear. Right from the get-go, the film had this sinister feel, much thanks to the awesome production design, that will make you cower a little bit in your seat, thinking that something horrific is going to jump at you anytime. This is what I liked most about the movie. It’s scary because the story is scary.

And in scenes where ghosts did appear, it was genuinely creepy. They’ll spook you out because they sort of appear naturally. Unlike most movies where a ghost suddenly appears when the camera pans to either side, the ghouls here somehow glide across the scene. And they’re executed well; like a graceful ice skating routine as opposed to a sporadic scare scenes. 

A good example would be the scene where one of the deacons decided to go to sleep and as he lay in bed and, without the camera moving, the two ghosts emerged from under the bed. The same can be said of the scene with Miguel when he was confronted by the freakish life-sized saint figure.

Notable performances

You have to give it to some of the cast. Bustamante is perfect for the role. She has the innocent charm that will fool you into thinking she’s really sent from heaven. Then she shifts to this sinister bitch that looks mockingly at the fasting deacons as she munches on some bread. The nuances of her facial expressions are spot on and tell you exactly the kind of character she is.

Also worth noting is Walker as the mysterious nun. She doesn’t say a lot but her face and body language do most of the talking for her. Together with Bustamante, her presence is disturbing.

I think much of the creepy feels has to be credited to the cinematography and score.

It’s got great potential but…

As much as I like the movie, there were some things I felt were not fleshed out well, like the parallel narrative that involves the investigation of Father Ricardo. It was an interesting part of the story that could’ve been explored more; it might’ve added more fright to the plot especially since it will delve into the backstories of Cecilia and Anghela.

The manner in which Ricardo figured it all out felt a little rushed for me.

Some things that left me wondering include the motivation behind Sandoval’s crime against the bishop and the patient inside the convent where Ricardo found the answers (why was he focused on for a good several seconds? What relevance did he hold?). Or how did Miguel manage to easily stab the little girl when she was able to kill Ricardo just minutes ago?

The deacons also had really good backstories that would’ve made an even scarier story but that might take too much time.

Regardless, the movie has that spine-tingling effect.

It managed to continually build up the suspense. Perhaps it was a combination of all the elements from production design to cinematography to lighting to musical score that conditioned our minds that there’s something ominous about to happen.

That’s exactly how I felt for the most part.

I kept on waiting for that moment when something would just jump at us and completely rattle our brains out. The build-up was too much (which is a good thing) but then when the final act came, it felt short–frustratingly short. It was a little underwhelming for me.

Perhaps one of its saving grace is the undertone. It’s dark and highly relevant. In the battle between good and evil, good might have to wait a long time for it to prevail. What’s even scarier is the idea that the men of church aren’t necessarily men of God and that’s why people need to exercise proper discernment to avoid blind faith.

 

 

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