Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jose Javier Reyes' "Dilim" - Short on Fright

Boy Abunda, who’s seemingly cured from his fungal hepatic abscess, was in top form and being himself one Sunday afternoon, i.e. trying to appear like an intellectual. “Why is your movie called ‘Dilim’ ?“, he asked with exhaustive gravity as though the fate of humanity depended on it . Kylie Padilla sat on her chair with stunned silence, as though slapped by bitter realization, or the dearth of one. She searched for answers, mouth half open, from The Buzz’s studio audience. Nothing.

She didn't know what darkness had to do with her character, it was almost comedic. Nada. Elvis left the building. She could've gone profound or lazily called it metaphor, but she instead looked electrocuted. Wasn't she the Padilla intellectual who was raised in Sydney, sang "Lonely Without You" and “Sulat” for her own CD outing, painted, wrote blog articles and dreamt of being an actress? The movie title would be the first clue if I were to embrace the character of Marites Almario. That same moment, I saw an expression that permeated throughout all the scenes in Padilla's movie debut.


In Jose Javier Reyes’Dilim”, Marites (Kylie Padilla) moves from Cagayan de Oro to Manila to pursue her college education. Two weeks prior to the start of her classes, she finds herself alone at the 3rd floor of a four-story dormitory. Her landlord Mang Damian (Manny Castaneda) has to attend to a family emergency in Pangasinan, leaving the disconcerted girl by her lonesome. “Bukas may kasama ka na, yung taga Baguio,” Damian reassures Marites.

That night, as she navigates the empty hallways of De la Rosa Dormitory, Marites gets acquainted with her new home’s creaky floors and dark corners, acutely aware of the sound of a girl crying nearby. Soon there after, she finds Mia (Ella Cruz) who’s more than convivial to meet her. “Taga Nueva Ecija ako. Nagre-review para sa Nursing Board exams,” Mia shares. 

In the morning, after attending mass, Marites is spooked by an old lady who tells her that she has a special gift, and that spirits are drawn to her ("natatangi... tulay"). She shares this with new friend Emerson (Rayver Cruz), a cheerful Criminology student whom she met at Aling Payang’s (Ruby Ruiz) eatery. 

But when another student Ellen arrives a day later, Marites realizes that the Mia she earlier met was the same who disappeared 5 years ago, along with her friend Aya (Nathalie Hart). They were never found. Marites transfers to another dorm hoping to get rid of Mia, but the latter still persistently appears in her dreams, asking for help. When Marites gets hold of Mia’s diary, their back stories start to unravel; a story that leads them to the son of an influential personality, Quinito Castaneda (Rafael Rosell) and his friend Danny (Joross Gamboa). But why is Marites seeing puddles on the floor and sandy foot prints? Are these tip-offs from beyond the grave?

Regal Films once again delivers the story of a protagonist with a “third eye”. Remember Carla Abellana in Aloy Adlawan’s (hold your breath!) “Third Eye”, the movie that initially toyed around with Earth-bound ghosts that soon transformed into zombies that eventually became cannibals? (Someone got so excited he got confused delineating the differences among his monsters.) A not-so-original variety resurrects 8 months later in "Dilim" (Darkness). Exciting, right?

Kylie Padilla turns in a one-note performance framed by a single facial expression seen from scene one until the last frame. If she wore a mask, it wouldn't have made any difference (reference: Derek Ramsay in all of his film appearances). Padilla’s joyless demeanor is so dour you’d wonder why anyone would even bother to speak to her. While I was made aware of her back story (father left when she was a child; she’s estranged from her mother; her next of kin is an aunt who works as a nurse in Hong Kong), Padilla effortlessly captures the essence of somnambulism in all its clinical criteria.

When Marites tells the police about a new name that could lead them to solving the crime, the cop tells them, “Pakitaan nyo ako ng pruweba.” Wasn’t that his job? Does this mean that in criminal cases, such as this, common people should gather all the evidence and interrogate witnesses? Present the aforementioned to the police before they make arrests? Huh? Then the same police man contacts Quinito informing him of Marites’ interest on the case. Why did the cop even care for Quinito’s sake? The latter didn’t even seem to know him. There is a fragmented series of ideas here too indicative to be real.

In another scene, Danny tracks down Marites’ whereabouts. He then invites Marites and Emerson to go with him to Sirena Beach Resort in Cavite – the same night they were introduced. What was so urgent five years after a disappearance that the meeting would have to be done on the same evening they first met? And why all the way to Cavite? If you were Marites, would you allow a complete stranger to take you to a distant place – just to discuss something that transpired 5 long years ago? Can’t they discuss this over, hmmm, coffee? I’d say a Starbucks scenario would be convenient for a mysterious disappearance, right? (wink wink) So if a stranger took them to Mars, they wouldn't think twice about it? The sense of urgency is baffling.

If Marites indeed was a magnet for ghosts, why was she being pursued by Mia alone? Aya didn't even bother talk to her. Selective affinity, perhaps? Maybe the other ghosts smell something rancid in her - or she just wasn't a very personable seance?

When Marites and Emerson finally meet Quinito, gunfight and fisticuffs ensue. Marites and Emerson were dragged to the sea, a scenario that duplicates Mia and Aya’s fate five years ago. Just before drowning them, our restless ghosts suddenly walk up from the bottom of the sea to help Marites and Emerson. Hell hath no fury like a couple of scorned ghosts, debah? Ay, so kaaliw. Mia and Aya, decked with sea weeds hanging down their heads, attack their murderers as our hapless bidas watch in horror. Then the story abruptly ends. Credits roll.

Quinito and Danny frequent the same beach resort where Mia and Aya were murdered. And why not? Quinito seems to own the resort. But what prevented the "ghosts" from attacking Quinito and Danny before? They obviously don’t need Marites to exact revenge, do they? In fact, Marites did not do anything special to coax our restless ghosts to rise from the bottom of the ocean. No magic spells nor special incantations were cast. What was Marites’ raison d’etre for this story then?   

Jose Javier Reyes is no stranger to horror films. He’s done half a dozen of the genre in the past, including “Malikmata”, “Spirit of the Glass”, “Matakot Ka sa Karma” and “Kutob”. Though not particularly innovative as a film maker, Reyes tells engaging stories. I was looking forward to his insight on the genre. After all, this is one film maker who can dish out about film language as eloquently as the scholars and cineastes. 

Moreover, the director is also a self-proclaimed fan of Stephen King (not to mention Edgar Allan Poe) whose short story inspired Peter Askin’s recent film “A Good Marriage” (2014), thus I was hoping for an unsettling time at the movies. In “A Good Marriage”, a contented wife (Joan Allen) wakes up one morning and realizes that her husband (Stephen Lang) of 25 years could be the serial killer who’s been murdering women all over the state. 

Dilim” isn't just derivative. It is short on “fright” as well. The narrative details don’t mesh like hand in glove. Detail is usually Reyes’ strong suit, but in a genre where he obviously grasps at straws, Reyes gets desultory. He is technically ill at ease weaving his narrative, especially when he starts building up suspense. At the peak of what could have been the climax, he loses steam and fails to find an appropriate narrative denouement. The sudden ending stunned me as much as it did Kylie Padilla when she was asked by Abunda why her film was called “Dilim”. Here is one unfinished story. Budget constraints? Or just plain lazy film making?

In an interview, Reyes discusses his thoughts, “As a filmmaker, your mettle and technical skills using film language are brought (???) to a test when you do horror projects.” Someone just failed his test.

Rayver Cruz and Kylie Padilla

Pretty Kylie

Rayver Cruz

Rafael Rosell

No comments: