Though it’s clearly been touched by its corporate overlord, Mikhail Red’s “Eerie” manages to carry its message with aplomb.
March 27, 2019
Drama, Mystery, Horror, Thriller
The real ghosts of Mikhail Red’s Eerie don’t loom through dark hallways. They don’t jump out of the dark. Instead, they feel like faint apparitions that conjure in your peripheral vision. They are there, unmistakably, but not-there enough that you can easily brush them off. These ghosts are frighteningly real, and they live within us and have us turn our eyes blind toward tragedy, atrocity, and oppression—the very things that we all need to see. That is the kind of ghost cast in Red’s new movie: our own ghosts, as a country and as its people with an unflinching ability to ignore what’s right in front of us.
Too bad it’s upstaged by the kind that sells movie tickets. Not that star power is bad. The familiarity of the vengeful spirit, scorned out of her sanity, is a direction that the new movie’s executives seem insistent on taking. And looking at the spreadsheet, they were right to do so. Eerie grossed approximately 40 million pesos in its opening weekend; a strong feat for a movie that had no famous love team to use as its crutch. This tells me that both Star Cinema and Cre8—the Singapore-based production company behind the new movie (and a handful of other projects in the pipeline)—mean business. However, somewhere in the process of piling the studio’s whims onto the movie, it becomes obvious that what we see on screen isn’t completely authentic to Red’s original vision.
The pitch, I’d imagine based on watching the movie twice, is to make a variation of what a Blumhouse picture looks like—slick, pretty, and supremely watchable. However, you get the sense that Eerie had a lot of genre tropes hammed in. There are pieces that feel incredibly out of place, and you can point out exactly which parts are part of the course and which are simply “ordered in”.
A good chunk of the movie is devoted to Pat (played by Bea Alonzo), a forlorn clairvoyant hell-bent on decoding the mystery of a suicide at the all-girls Catholic school where she works as a guidance counselor. She goes on to have nightly discussions with Eri (Gillian Vicencio), the student who had taken her life at the school some years ago. The school management, led by dogmatic headmistress Sor Alice (Charo Santos), seems to be unaware of and suspiciously unperturbed by this, even when another student turns up dead at the schoolyard, out in the open.
That about sets up the mystery center to Eerie. The screenplay, co-written by Mikhail Red, Rae Red, and one Mariah Reodica, feels sparse at first but later stifled with moments seemingly shoehorned to accommodate quick frights. There’s plenty of such moments, and they deplete much of the tension the filmmakers have studiously built with genuinely frightful scenes that somehow fall through the cracks. That running nun in the hallway, for example, is going to lodge in everyone’s memory for a long time, I’m certain.
There are moments like this in the movie, thanks to the degree of talent involved. Charo Santos’ portrayal of an imposing matriarch isn’t only a neat callback to Vic Silayan’s over-the-throes patriarch in Kisapmata, but a great contrast to Bea Alonzo’s resilient take on a person haunted by an unimaginable past. This is crucial, being that the two represent opposite ideals. One is in a progressive mindset and the other borders in totalitarianism. It’s similarly crucial that the story is set in the 90’s, when the death penalty in the Philippines had just been reimposed, effectively nulling the fight for human rights that preceded it. It was, indeed, a dark turn in Philippine history, something that’s spookily mirrored in the movie when the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan.
This conflict between clashing ideals is captured beautifully by DP Mycko David, who has the needle-sharp instinct of using shadows, pull focus, and movement to reveal and obscure. Horror is a perfect sandbox to exercise such skill, and here David, alongside Red, makes the discerning decision to hold onto the actors’ faces—often reaction shots—for exhaustively long periods of time. It’s a known tactic, but it works wonders when used effectively, as it is here. Myca Magsaysay and Paul Sigua’s score, meanwhile, can peak and valley from obnoxious to legitimately thrilling.
Anyone who’s acquainted with Star Cinema’s creative meddling will instinctively dial back their expectations of Eerie, as they should. Still, it’s such a shame that what they have put out isn’t as clear-cut as what people have been accustomed to expect out of a Mikhail Red movie. Eerie’s core message remains intact, even if the movie itself has morphed into its own monster. And while I don’t believe that the end justifies the means, I’m happy that a film studio as ginormous as Star Cinema is willing to bank on good movie ideas (sans love teams). With this movie’s commercial success, I hope that Red asserts his vision as solely his own and that Star Cinema, like the failed Sor Alice, does the right thing and give way.