There’s some controversy surrounding Tragic Theater even before its debut – with MTRCB giving its trailer an X rating and its lead star Andi Eigenmann meeting an accident for one of her stunts. Moreover, the urban legend from which the story is based – around a hundred workers who met their demise at the Manila Film Center during its construction in 1981 and whose remains are still buried underneath its cemented floors – still fascinates the everyday Pinoy. These two factors combine to make Tragic Theater one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2015.
Based on a novel by G.M. Coronel, Tragic Theater is set in 1999 and follows Annie (Eigenmann) as she solicits the help of old friend and adviser Father Nino (John Estrada) and his group of spirit questors to exorcise the Manila Film Center of malevolent ghosts, in time for its millennium restoration project. Through several paranormal encounters, they learn that there’s a more sinister presence haunting them – and keeping the ghosts at bay – from within the film center’s walls.
So does it live up to the hype? With lackluster horror offerings in the recently concluded MMFF, does this finally give moviegoers that satisfying, cathartic fright they are yearning for?
To be fair, the movie shows so much promise – it’s built upon an intriguing premise and contains shocking visuals, impressive sound design, and some inventive camerawork. Director Tikoy Aguiluz plays with lighting and blocking, resulting to several interesting shot compositions. Prosthetics and make-up are also put to good use. There are scary depictions within the movie, definitely. And no one can deny Andi Eigenmann’s charismatic screen presence.
However, my major beef is how clunky the film is, which takes most of the thrill out of the viewing experience. All the elements are there. We know about Annie’s past, struggles, and relationships. We know about Nino’s shady motivation for helping Annie in the exorcisms. We know about Bishop Michael’s (Christopher de Leon) hesitation to grant exorcisms – and why. But these are all realized in a muddled screenplay.
Why was Bishop Michael’s back-story presented in a flashback at such length in the middle of an exorcism, without much pertinence to the main plot? What has the overly long sequence of Annie walking though corridors and opening doors achieved in terms of building her psychological state and the threat of the ghosts? Where did the flashbacks of Annie and Nino’s past head to? The placement, positioning, and pacing of these off-tangent scenes could have been improved to make their relevance and timing much more impactful. But as it is, watching the story unfold is confusing, disjointing, and even tedious.
The confusion extends to the third act, where there’s no clear direction on how to solve the problem. Another set of questions emerge. Why were the ghosts only watching on during the possession? What exactly did the spirit questors’ sessions in the lobby contribute to the exorcism? Did the group actually achieve their goal of exorcising the film center itself? Ultimately, you’ll end up asking, so what ended up working?
It’s a shame that a movie with such potential turned out rather disappointingly. After all is said and done, there’s even a hint at a sequel. It might benefit from a second instalment, if only to tie loose ends and to further explore the other spirit questors’ unique gifts. But to be honest, it wouldn’t help at all if Part 1 is quite a mess.
Stray observations (SPOILER ALERT! READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!)
- Annie drives around UP Oblation twice!
- Why is the gang using their flashlights in the well-lit lobby of the Manila Film Center?
- What happened to Gabe Mercado’s character after the first visit? Why didn’t he join the next sessions? Was he killed or abducted by the ghosts?
- So there are a majority of ghosts who are against crossing over and a minority who can’t speak. But how can the spirit questors actually isolate and speak in private with the minority? There are ghosts everywhere inside the theater!
- Not that this matters as the relevance of the ghosts wanes upon the introduction of the “Diablo.” But why does the Diablo not want the spirits to cross over? For what benefit?
- When Annie was possessed, she just froze in place, in one pose. There is no urgency in rescuing her at all, as no harm seems to be inflicted on her whatsoever. The questors might as well have called it a night and returned for her the day after, refreshed and rejuvenated.
- It’s frustrating this is all because Annie broke the circle as she cannot resist answering her cell phone – twice! Those calls better be important.
- I don’t know, some tears in this movie look too overdramatic – like Nino’s and Michael’s.
- The disfigured ghost’s monologue is staged as if he’s being interviewed on TV.
- Why did Father Nino snap at the two people who were in the circle beside Annie? It wasn’t their fault Annie answered her cell phone. No one to blame but Annie.
- Only Arlene (Roxanne Barcelo) from the spirit questors is shown with a clear and distinct power from the lot.
- On that note, Roxanne Barcelo is too experienced an actress to be given a role this small. She deserves a break.
- So did the spirit questors only release four souls? What about the other 100? Does the Diablo’s banishing mean the rest of the 100 souls are now more open to crossing over?
- Nice acting from the possessed girl in Bishop Michael’s flashback. Clap clap.
- A lot of sitting around for most of the group. It’s good they’re all able to keep their calm despite a possession nearby.
- Lol at the two guard extras!
- The ending felt rushed. I would have wanted to see closure or some sort of resolution between Annie and Nino. I would have wanted to see if the film center has finally been cleared of ghosts or if the reconstruction pushed through. What we got instead was a freeze frame of Nino’s face…
Director: Tikoy Aguiluz
With: Andi Eigenmann, John Estrada, Christopher de Leon