Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tragic Theater

Tragedy struck in 1981 when the Manila Film Center, which was then in its final stages of construction, collapsed and buried more than 100 workers in quick dry cement. Rumor has it that the Marcos Administration intentionally delayed rescue operations due to various reasons. Since then, the building has been the subject of many urban legends claiming that it is haunted by the restless souls of the men who died there. Tragic Theater gives its fictional take on the real event following the story of Annie (Andi Eignemann), an employee of the Department of Tourism tasked to make sure that the building is spiritually sound before they attempt to rehabilitate it. She asks for the help of a Parish Priest (John Estrada), who in turn seeks the assistance of a Bishop (Christopher de Leon) to exorcise the place. What they do not know is that there is a more sinister entity waiting inside to ambush them.

That this film has been given an R-16 rating and even had one of its trailers banned because it was “too scary” seems like plain gimmick to attract attention. How old are the MTRCB members who rated this film? Five? The movie does have its brilliant moments, but to be deemed “too scary” for public consumption is going a bit too far, and perhaps a bit too subjective for a regulatory body that should be maintaining objectivity at all times. Or maybe there are just too many die-hard Marcos loyalists there who no longer wanted to unearth  controversial issues from a bygone era that have already been buried for good?

The best way to serve a horror flick is with subtlety. Ghosts are scary, alright, but their earthly manifestation is not something that should be overdone, lest they lose their impact. This is what happens in Tragic Theater. We are bombarded with images of badly animated white cloth floating around, along with a persistent black smoke stalking the spirit hunters. Such imagery would be appropriate for young adult fiction turned into movies, the likes of Harry Potter. Since this film deals with the subject of exorcism, it would have been more effective if the director mimicked techniques utilized in recent Hollywood flicks such as Annabelle. They could have upped the ante that way.

Instead, Tragic Theater relies too much on repetitive scare tactics and deafening sound effects. There is just too much shouting and screaming in this movie accompanied by loud audio that just harass your eardrums. Clingy decapitated arms and abruptly shutting doors are used again and again, in the same sequence, until they lose their entertainment value. Consequently, members of the audience end up laughing instead of getting a genuine scare.

Estrada offers the same brand of telenovela acting he is known for. Eigenmann is effective in several scenes where she cries, but could use more workshops to improve her acting repertoire for this particular genre; although of course, she would be of Oscar caliber if the only comparison would be Kris Aquino. She could also try to emulate her mom’s more subdued acting, as there are many instances in this film where she appears to be overemphasizing her enunciation though totally unnecessary. In any case, at least we have de Leon to salvage the day as far as acting is concerned.

There are too many subplots. Annie has issues. The Priest has issues. Even the Bishop has issues. There is nothing wrong with protagonists having a truckload of emotional baggage, but when their concerns are already hijacking the airtime reserved supposedly for the haunted theater in question, the plot becomes too dragging for the audience to bear. Annie must have already been levitating inside that damn theater for almost an hour as they shove the other characters’ personal dramas in our faces. Yes, we get it; that is essential for good character development. But we watched this movie for the haunted theater! Had we wanted more melodrama, we would have just settled for a TV soap opera.

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