Sleek, polished horror flick
STAR BYTES - Butch Francisco () - September 1, 2009 - 12:00am

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You’ll never know what you’re gonna get.” — from the Tom Hanks film, Forrest Gump.

 This is what life is like for us in the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB), the group that gives tax rebates to local movies (100 percent for those graded A and 65 percent for those graded B). Since the time I sat in the board, the policy had always been to keep the title of the movie secret to those reviewing the film — that is until we get to the screening room. Why? Because if we find out that we are going to sit through what is obviously a crappy film, everyone will be calling in sick and we’ll never get to have a quorum. Administrative head Wilma Isleta and her assistant Rose Hicaro therefore had long been instructed not to tell any member what we are watching for the day.

And so we sometimes end up with deservingly graded A films that eventually get voted as the year’s Best Picture in the local awards derbies. Most times, we get graded B films that make us leave the screening room still happy because the movie wasn’t really all that bad. But in some cases, we kick ourselves in the head for waking up early and braving Makati traffic only to end up watching films that should never have been produced at all.

Last week, CEB scheduled two films for viewing and no one was able to foretell that both movies were about fortune telling. As in back-to-back films about seers — or manghuhula in the vernacular.

The first film was Tarot (pronounced tarr-oh), which is directed by Jun Lana. We had high hopes for Tarot because Jun was also behind last year’s Matakot ka sa... Kulam (starring Judy Ann Santos) and that got an A from CEB.

Jun is obviously done with his voodoo doll phase and has shifted to tarot cards. And so in the film Tarot, we see lead star Marian Rivera tampering with the tarot cards of her grandmother (Gloria Romero), who in her lifetime was the best and never made the mistake of predicting that it was Miss Valenzuela who was going to be crowned Miss Universe of 1994. (For today’s generation, this is a potshot at Madame Auring, who wrongly claimed 15 years ago that it was going to be Miss Valenzuela — obviously referring to Miss Venezuela — who would be crowned Miss Universe when the contest was held here in Manila).

Marian actually didn’t want to have anything to do with granny’s tarot cards, but her boyfriend, Dennis Trillo, disappears during a hike in Mount Banahaw and the only solution she can think of is to retrieve the deck from lola’s grave and start reading them (she, too, is gifted with that ability). Unfortunately for Marian and those around her, having the cards around again could have ugly consequences — and that’s where the screamfest starts.

What I like best about Tarot is that it never resorts to cheap scare tactics to frighten the viewers. Jun is creative enough to think of perfectly logical scenes to elicit screams from the audience — and succeeds.

The special effects are also superior and you appreciate how the production outfit, Regal Films, spends for it because that is one factor that makes Tarot a quality horror film.

The think-tank behind Tarot should also be lauded for blending within the story cityscape with the very rural scenes of Mount Banahaw because by doing so, we get the best of both worlds. And so we are treated to sightings of ghosts running after our lead characters in quaint locales and at the same time see people falling off tall buildings in an urbanized setting. I guess it’s no longer acceptable for moviegoers of today to just put all the screen characters in one haunted house — like they used to in old horror films — and have them killed one by one (except for the lead, of course). You people are getting to be so demanding. What will you ask for next? A global horror film isn’t such a bad idea.

Tarot is truly a sleek and polished horror movie to please even the most discriminating of local viewers. However, I still have a little quarrel or two over some aspects of the film. One is the prolonged back-story of the character of Gloria Romero in Mount Banahaw. Fortunately, Regal Films was wise enough to cast Celia Rodriguez — as a one-eyed jack espiritista — in that part because only she could make those long and extended sequences interesting and without making the viewers yawn.

My other quarrel with Tarot? It’s quite minor. It’s about the casting of a supposedly newborn infant who is shown on screen as a child big enough to enter kindergarten. To think that the baby is even said to be premature. However, that’s a very small detail.

Tarot really deserves more praise and one of those who should be congratulated is Marian, who turns in an inspired performance. Dennis, already an award-winning actor, as always delivers. I should also give credit to Susan Africa, who plays Marian’s mother because she is very believable as a woman who refuses the power to see the future and as a loving mom who only wants the best for her daughter.

Tarot truly makes it as this year’s best horror film and I can hardly wait for Jun’s scream-your-lungs-out project next year.

Oh, didn’t I say we reviewed two films of the same theme in CEB? The other one is also about fortune telling, but I’m reviewing that next time. If you read the entertainment section of this paper and know the forthcoming films to be shown soon in local movie theaters, maybe you can already guess what it is.

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