Saturday, May 18, 2019



1965. A family seemingly living in bliss in a lovely home is massacred by the father with the help of an ax. 1985. Luis (Kent Gonzales) is visited by his twin sister Manuela (Pam Gonzales) at university where she berates him for abandoning her at home with their parents as he pursues a college education in Lucena. Their tense reunion is cut short by a phone call, that of their father, informing him that his sister has just passed away. The distressed brother comes home for the funeral and is received by his doormat mother Rebecca (Sharon Cuneta) and his aloof and strangely unaffected father Arturo (John Arcilla). Whatever attempt to discuss the topic of his sibling’s death is met with hostility and indifference, but ghosts with unfinished business will never be laid to rest. Getting an unsolicited warning from mysterious visitor Salve (Guila Alvarez), Luis must uncover the truth about his family and their house if they want to survive the evil that lies within.

It’s good to see Cuneta in another indie flick, which is a rarity for her. Mostly known for heavy drama and comedy, she tries her luck with thriller this time around and does not disappoint. Maybe this also has something to do with Kuwaresma being a family drama despite the supernatural twist that molds its plot. Arcilla, on the other hand, has always been a reliable character actor. While that exorcism scene might seem a bit caricature at some point, he does nail the role of the terror dad with tons of emotional baggage.

The two Gonzales’ offer a decent performance for newbies in the industry. It is brave of them to tackle such physically demanding roles where they have to be dragged around and tortured by invisible forces for the sake of suspense. That must have been difficult to film, but we love new blood who are up for such a challenge. Whether they are related or even actually twins in real life is not that consequential to discuss since the two do not even share a lot of scenes together, so rapport is not that big an issue.

Erik Matti is perhaps the most capable director in the country when it comes to convincing visual effects, may it be for the supernatural or fantasy genre. Not the type to back down from a CGI challenge, he surprisingly relies on dark shadows and muted tones to deliver the scare factor in this recent masterpiece of his. On the downside, the predominantly greyish hues make the movie a bit difficult to watch, but somehow it effectively mirrors the psychological trauma the characters are suffering from onscreen.

This does not mean, however, that the film is free of CGI. There still are plenty for some scenes but done in a way that makes them blend well with the real and tangible elements. That is mostly the problem with horror flicks in this country, the effects come across as too tacky to be taken seriously. In Kuwaresma, they actually complement the overall tone of the material, giving you a genuine scare without second guessing yourself whether to laugh or to shout.

Perhaps the only problem with Kuwaresma is how it overwhelms itself on what it should be. In the end, the attempt seems to be a hodgepodge of plot twists we’ve already seen in Hollywood thrillers. Exorcism? Haunted house? Psychotic tendencies? Demonology? At one point you are not really sure if it wants to be Amityville, The Exorcist, Hereditary or even Thailand’s Alone. Sure, it can be all of those but for fans of the genre, such decision might be interpreted as a shotgun approach to whatever works. Kuwaresma skewered them all, with a bonus gender identity crisis theme that already comes across as too much for one movie.

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