Sunday, January 1, 2017


1947. Garbed in immaculate blue and white with matching improvised tiara of the Virgin Mary on her head, Anghela Sta. Ana (Rhed Bustamante) is a doer of miracles. The townsfolk come to her to seek supernatural treatment for their many physical ailments. They treat her as a living saint. Father Ricardo (Neil Ryan Sese) is sent by the Catholic Church to investigate. He believes the key to proving that the child is a false prophet is by exposing the dubious past of Sister Cecilia (Phoebe Walker), the mysterious nun who accompanies the girl wherever she goes. Young deacon Miguel (Ronnie Alonte) enters a retreat house with three other ministers to undergo seven days of seclusion, the final step required before they are fully ordained as priests. When Anghela’s parents are murdered, she seeks refuge and is reluctantly accepted at the same retreat house, causing complications to the already overwhelming torment the four young men must deal with to prove the strength of their faith.

Bustamante was one of only four actresses contending for the top acting award, which eventually went to Irma Adlawan. There is reason to believe that she was the dark horse. As the devil incarnate herself, this kid is so believably sinister, she will send chills down your spine. We aren’t even talking about hysterics or CGI here. The girl only needs to cast one ominous stare at you to send you running back home to mommy. Equally alluring is Walker’s enigmatic Sister Cecilia. You know that there is something off about her, and as the demons of her past begin to surface by virtue of Father Ricardo’s investigation, the perverted fascination grows even stronger.

Alonte’s Miguel is just as bad as his James in his other MMFF entry. Once again, his mediocre performance is saved by his co-actors. The intensity of Bustamante’s bravura performance easily overshadows his, as if he wasn’t in the scene at all. In the end, though, the girl amazes you enough to forget his involvement. However, it also highlights this very pitfall. The gravitas is just not there. Tolerable as it may seem, you will end up thinking how the role could have been given more justice in the hands of a more capable actor.

The film has been criticized for its paper-thin story, and there are many times when nothing seems to make sense. Sometimes, that’s not necessary. After all, film is still considered art, right? At times, it just needs to be visually impressive. The muted sepia tones involved in the cinematography don’t just help in establishing the 40’s setting but also contribute a lot to the vivid imagery characteristic of Erik Matti’s movies. There is a multitude of scenes that you can freeze in your head, producing some striking stills that could have easily blended in at some random museum. For some people, this one hell of a visual feast will suffice to turn a blind eye to whatever the storyline may lack.

In terms of social relevance, the film explores the prevalence of religion and superstition in Philippine society, most of the time blurring the line between the two concepts. Filipinos have always relied on such abstractions to make sense of their everyday life. While Seklusyon is a case study grounded on the past, one cannot deny the persistent influence that the church still enjoys in today’s daily affairs.

Another interesting point of discussion is how Christianity seems to be one of only few religions in the world whose icons and statues can be used to induce fear. What is it with sculptures of Mama Mary and Jesus Christ that make them menacing? It’s kind of weird like that. In fact, one of the visions of the young deacons here is that of the Virgin Mary chasing him around while spouting profanities at him. You know there’s something wrong with you when you are being pursued by such a perverted hallucination. But these can all be dismissed as the musings of a disturbed mind, blamed on religion for the sake of convenience. The resulting visual experience might not be that cerebral, but it sure is distracting. Perplexingly distracting.

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