'Ilawod' Review: Elegant horror falls short
Good horror disrupts relentlessly.
It should be able to create a feeling of distrust and disquiet from places, people, and situations that are normally familiar and comfortable. It provokes. It challenges perceptions, evoking a level of uncertainty that makes everything susceptible to suspicion and unsafety.
Dan Villegas’ Ilawod has all the makings of good horror, except that it’s not.
Though it opens in a remote barrio where a television crew is trying to film an exorcism, the film is mostly set in the metropolis, within a condominium community, where a typical urban family is living their typical urban life.
The dad (Ian Veneracion) is a reporter who is relegated to covering sensational stories of the occult. The mom (Iza Calzado) is more successful in her career as a financial officer. Their teenage son (Harvey Bautista) is coming of age, preferring to be left alone than to interact with their daughter (Xyriel Manabat). Their relationships with each other are delicate, relying primarily on the concept of modernity superseding traditions when it comes to familial rapport.
It is only when the strange occurrences within the household happen that everything is tested. The dad turns temperamental, taking offense at every emasculating utterance made by the mom. A strange girl (Therese Malvar) suddenly appears to provide the teenage son the attention and intimacy he can’t get from his family. The daughter is left alone with the family’s doting helper (Ruby Ruiz) to battle her growing fears.
Intelligent motives, clinical direction
There is evident promise to Yvette Tan’s plot.
Its motives are intelligent, cleverly borrowing genre tropes and conventions to convey conflicts that arise out of families that exemplify contemporary attitudes but struggle with patriarchal impulses.
Unfortunately, Tan’s screenplay is morose and spare, almost bereft of any real characterization that would render the film’s characters more than just bare representations of familial roles. The story provides very little room for the audience to care for any of the characters. They are all ciphers, and their emotions, reactions, and destinies feel too mechanical.
It also does not help that Villegas directs the entire thing a tad too clinically. Each frame is precisely composed, which does not necessarily translate to a consistent atmosphere of despair or uneasiness. Everything is pleasant to look at, almost too easy on the eyes. Each sequence is edited with astounding deliberateness, too careful to breach its manufactured peace for grave chaos. The colors are subdued, and the acting, consistently serious and sullen.
This is a clear case of undisguised subtlety, where the film is adamant in its aspiration to impose a creeping sensation to feign dread, but only ends up involuntarily getting its intent across because of tedium and repetition. There are no real surprises. The film is quite lifeless.
Quiet and elegant scares
This isn’t good horror. It holds back. It’s too safe.
Sure, it has enough scares, some of which are ingeniously staged by Villegas and his team of perfectionist craftsmen. The film, however, is a big step away from the disruption it envisions. Its ambition of weaving together horror film clichés with a discourse on the failures of modern families falls apart drastically in its effort to scare quietly and elegantly. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.