Saturday, January 4, 2020

Sunod

♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Single mom Olivia (Carmina Villaroel) is forced to crash a university job fair despite not being a fresh graduate and gets lucky in getting hired as a call center agent. She is in desperate need of income to support the medical expenses of her sick child Anelle (Krystal Brimner), whose heart condition requires constant hospitalization. Her transition to the night shift is perfect as she can work at night and then spend the day at the hospital to be with her teenage daughter. Through the support of her supervisor Lance (JC Santos), she adapts quickly. One night, in the dilapidated building where they work, she runs into a quiet kid who calls herself Nerisa (Rhed Bustamante). Thinking she’s an officemate’s daughter who got lost in the dark hallways, she leads her out of the building where the girl rapidly vanishes. Soon enough, Olivia’s efforts are acknowledged by their dragon lady boss Karen (Mylene Dizon), the daughter of the company owner. Anelle’s illness also disappears, something modern medicine can barely explain. It doesn’t take long before mother realizes that her newly rejuvenated daughter is not really who she thinks she is.

Asian horror has already reached its peak in the early 2000’s and went downhill fast after that. For Filipino horror there have been attempts and decent offerings in the last few years, but they do not really veer that far away from the usual jump scare formula. Sunod tries to be innovative and is partly successful by braving a new direction, even though there are still some areas that could have been improved. Banking more on darkness and silence onscreen instead of loud sound effects, the result is an eerie thriller that is muzzled and somewhat constrained, but effectively so.

The teaser trailer did not give away much, except for the haunted call center setting. The texture was also pleasing to the eyes and felt like an indie Hollywood flick that capitalized on Dizon’s subtly sinister stares. I must admit that I was intrigued by it, and so when my parents said they wanted to see it, it wasn’t hard for them to convince me to come along. The opening sequence is that of Villaroel garbed in a black veil in what looks like a quarry site. She is flanked by two faceless men with shovels burying her daughter alive with wet mud under the pouring rain. Haunting visuals, I must say, and good enough to arrest attention.

What I am not sure of is whether this really is a ghost story. It seems to me as though the villain of the narrative is something more like a malevolent entity that is just plain evil and took possession of the building because of the horrors that took place there through the decades. Personally, I think horror films are more effective when you don’t rely on ghosts for the spook factor. After all, Filipinos love ghost movies with underlying sob stories that drastically attempt to humanize the ghost, in an effort to justify a supernatural revenge storyline.

Here, they seem to be up against something inherently evil, which requires no explanation because it is just the way it is. Of course, it’s easier to feel terrorized by something that you don’t really understand and is far detached from any relatable human experience. There is no unfinished business to settle and there is no mission for the main character to fulfill. In a way, Sunod feels a little bit more like Silent Hill in this regard, which means it also would have been great if they went full retard on the special effects and turned the building into a character of its own. Unfortunately, they don’t really venture that far.

The narrative is open-ended, packing one final scare before you get out of the cinema. It does leave you with some questions, but perhaps that’s one of the eventual shortcomings of a horror story with no relatable big bad. In the end, you are curious for a few minutes before eventually just moving on with your life. Even then, it’s still a decent horror flick and yet another MMFF movie delving into the theme of motherhood, albeit with a horror lens, which is perhaps one of the film’s stronger points.

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