Like many people who get frustrated by the limitations of medical science, Seth (Vilma Santos), an insurance executive, takes her ailing 74 year old father (Robert Arevalo) to Manang Elsa (Daria Ramirez), a renowned faith healer. After some incantations, they were sent home with a medicinal concoction for her stroke patient. To her surprise, the next day finds the old man completely rid of stroke – strong, ambulatory and even virile! Tatang is given a new lease in life. And he starts living his days like they were his last. News travel fast. Soon, Seth’s house becomes an infirmary of sorts, with her circle of friends gathering and seeking her help for a coterie of complaints: a breast mass, diabetes, psoriasis, pediatric blindness, etc. Would Seth – pretty please – accompany them to Manang Elsa? Heck, even her ex-husband’s daughter Cookie (Kim Chiu) is afflicted with kidney disease, and she's gradually wasting away!
Seth takes her friends to the healer, but Manang Elsa refuses to see anyone. “May sakit s’ya at tumigil na s’ya sa panggagamot,” explains Melchor, Elsa’s son. They refuse to leave the shaman’s house. A lot is at stake: a medical clearance for work in the Middle East; an approaching wedding; a life free of cancer, etc. The old woman finally acquiesces and accommodates her assertive visitors. Everyone goes home hopeful, but few of them remain skeptical. One by one, Seth’s friends experience the miracle of healing - breast lumps disappear, gangrenous feet clear up, and blood sugar normalizes! Elsa was wrong, Ate Guy! “May himala”, indeed! Even Cookie’s blood dyscrasia and sallow skin clear up like magic! Everyone rejoices.
Then Seth starts seeing crows that appear incommodiously. She also sees doppelgangers of her friends; body doubles devoid of emotions. Then chatty Chona (Ces Quesada), who has always been good natured, turns amok. Is her strange demeanor related to the healing? Would it affect the other “patients” as well? Why is Seth’s father – the first to be treated – unaffected?
The movie is an ensemble piece, held together beautifully by Vilma Santos though it’s easy to see it’s a walk in the park for the Star for All Seasons. It's a welcome respite to see Santos in a genre far removed from her bombastic dramas. I am a wee bit distracted by her “look” – she looked like our favorite Batangas Governor: thick rimmed glasses, corporate blouses, etc. I understand that she plays an insurance executive, but there has to be a difference between an insurance peddler and a governor, right? But I’m merely nitpicking. Santos is nevertheless a joy to watch.
I am seeing Kim Chiu in a new light. This is a more adorable Chiu, devoid of her woe-is-me demeanor. She plays the sympathetic stepdaughter afflicted with Glomerulonephritis. Glomeru…what? It’s just a kidney infection, my tita said, who further shared, “We admit cases like that left and right. They’re easy to treat – like UTI - and could be managed as an out-patient case. So it’s weird hearing it as a fatal disease entity.” Sus, I thought it was analogous to a death sentence. J But back to Kim, she was reasonably compelling. When she suddenly asked Seth, “Galit po kayo sa akin, Tita?” my heart went out to her. I wish Kim’s succeeding projects wouldn’t lay on the melodrama too thick, then I’d be happy to watch her again. In “The Healing”, Kim Chiu eschews an adequately fleshed out character.
The rest of the cast should be proud as well. Martin del Rosario (Seth’s son and Cookie’s half-brother Jed) displays a strong cinematic presence that should guarantee him more screen work in the future. Other note-worthy portrayals include Janice de Belen as mother Cita, Joel Torre as Melchor (the healer’s son), Daria Ramirez as Elsa (the faith healer), Robert Arevalo (Seth’s father), Mark Gil (Seth’s former husband), and Pokwang (as Dubai-bound Alma). I am conflicted with Jhong Hilario’s participartion: his wig looked nasty (and fake). Dario, his character, got electrocuted. When he was taken to Manang Elsa, he was already dead. The healer went on to resurrect the dead which should be a taboo, for obvious reasons. And such action necessitates the claiming of another in exchange of Dario’s. Quite a valid scenario, if you ask me.
In folklore, doppelganger – the paranormal double of a living person – typically represents misfortune or evil. These entities are a form capable of “bilocation” (St. Pio de Pietrelcina was said to have had such power), but in this light, they are harbingers of bad luck, and may portend illness or an accident. It can be an omen of death. The idea of doppelgangers exists even in Norse and Finnish mythology as well as in the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians. A popular poet, Percy Bysshe Shelly told his wife how he met his doppelganger. Few days later, the English poet drowned in a bay in Italy. Other historical persons who died after meeting their doppelgangers include Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. It is interesting therefore to encounter the Pinoy perspective on doppelgangers, violent creatures in Rono’s re-imaginings.
One of my favorite scenes involves the monks at a Buddhist Temple. Since this scene is not exactly commonplace, the praying monks imbue it with a sense of mystery. Rono is quite good with employing local color that, as an audience, it’s easy to immerse oneself in the make-believe world we are witnessing.
Director Chito Rono has created a feasible scenario that hooks his viewers from the start. After all, we have a rich and inherent tradition of interweaving faith, superstition and medical science. But what makes “The Healing” unsettling is its distinct plethora of events: patient gets healed; crows loom; doppelgangers appear; the patients crack up and go berserk, then turn amok.
In the narrative, chronology of events takes center stage to exploit paranoia and a rankling of supposition, not dissimilar to the “Final Destination” movies. Who follows whom? How will they perish? And Rono concocts this atmosphere of morbidity with inspired compulsion and rabid vehemence. When Ynes Veneracion leisurely saunters towards the concrete with a giant chopping knife while her husband (Allan Paule) stoops down at the center of the road, you want to hit a pause button. There was a chill running down my spine. You know what’s coming – and you watch in frustration until the deed has been consummated! Rono keeps his narrative clamorous all throughout.
“The Healing” is experiencing a slow burn – “a fuego lento”. In fact, it is doing an amazing business in its second week. In three different mall cinemas this weekend alone, I saw queues mostly meant for “The Healing”. This is good news for mainstream cinema that has suffered a considerable plunge in theater attendance from January to June 2012. Word of mouth sure works like magic.