Horror from within and beyond

Film review: Sunod - Pablo A. Tariman - The Philippine Star
Horror from within and beyond
Carmina Villarroel and Krystal Brimner in a scene from Sunod. Some tender moments before the big scream.

One of the more exciting entries in the current Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) is the directorial debut of Carlo Ledesma in the horror genre.

The title of the film, Sunod, doesn’t invite extra curiosity but as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Sunday night at the newly-opened Ayala Malls Manila Bay, we saw the only horror entry in the MMFF and got what we more than bargained for, so to speak.

The setting is contemporary city life with a financially harassed single mother named Olivia (Carmina Villarroel) making ends meet as she takes care of a daughter (Krystal Brimner) with a heart condition.

She forces herself into a job (call center agent) meant for students and her life takes a hectic turn looking after her daughter and surviving the graveyard shift of her job.

But there is devil with the kindness of an angel where she works. New in the job, the office won’t allow cash advances she badly needs for her daughter’s hospital bills. A kind soul in the office issues a personal check which she accepts. But swiftly, the animal in the call center supervisor (JC Santos) asserts itself to her shock. She barely escapes sexual assault and ends up with a pound of guilt as she didn’t return the check or bother to confront her attacker.

Sunod chronicles the horror of daily existence for a single mother. As she holds on to her job, she discovers a well-kept secret within the office building which was a former hospital in the not-so-distant past.

The good screenplay allows the moviegoer to enjoy the quiet moments before unleashing its shocking elements.

On top of a good screenplay, Sunod has excellent cinematography which frames the story in good context.

What comes out is good craftsmanship in a delicate story of spirit possession with another twist.

The surprise revelation is that Carmina as the harassed Olivia does justice to the part and makes the role her own. She adds more emotional inputs to a mother-daughter relationship and her courage goes beyond warding off lions in sheep’s clothing. Her character ventures into the realm of the restless spirits who provide the endless scares of the movie.

There is a lot to admire in the part of Krystal who plays the ailing daughter. The invasion of the spirit allows her to portray edgy dual roles and she acquits herself very well.

Not surprising that JC defines the part (the lion in sheep’s clothing) not just with a dose of brilliance but with built-in élan. He is one actor who can build characters without a hint of how he will transform himself. And surprise of surprise, he delivers without effort.

The presence of Mylene Dizon as the owner of the establishment adds more corporate atmosphere in a building haunted by its past.

But the most riveting discovery of all is that Susan Africa — identified as one with the gentle soul in an afternoon teleserye — delivers one of the most shocking transformations in the horror genre.

One likes her quiet motherly part which makes you appreciate her scary revelation. One thought one was beyond scaring but to one’s surprise, one joined the audience in the mass screaming.

This is horror film on a superior level. It horrifies with every frame limned by intelligence.

For director Carlo, this is a very auspicious directorial debut.

Not surprising since he is one of the writers of another excellent MMFF entry, Saving Sally (2016). He also directed the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Mini Movie Channel Award for Best Short Film The Haircut.

The good news is that the film lived up to its promise. It was rated B by the Cinema Evaluation Board.

Produced by Ten17P in partnership with Globe Studios, Sunod opens in cinemas Dec. 25. It also stars Freddie Webb, Kate Alejandrino and Rhed Bustamante, among others.

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