‘Banal’ review: New wave of Philippine horror genre

Inspired by true events, APT Entertainment’s Banal brings a new take on Philippine horror genre.

In Banal (english title: Holy), a group of teenagers out for a summer vacation, finds themselves lost in the dense forest of Mt. Awanggan, a mystical mountain that is said to grant wishes to anyone who reaches its peak. Burdened and driven by conflicting motivations, the poor crew draws several complications along their journey. The film deals about issues that most young people have such as ‘adulting’ struggles, existential crisis, family baggage, and various millennial dilemmas that life has to offer. Given the weight of these emotional overtures mixed with a myriad of supernatural experiences happening around them, Banal takes a different stance from run-of-the-mill horror flicks.

Despite being warned not to pursue their foolish adventure, these stubborn teenagers manage to pull some strings to get past obstacles, only to uncover all the horrors that they were warned about. As a cautionary tale of reckless curiosity, this film shows that karma is a powerful thing that the younger audiences must keep into mind.

(L-R): Taki Saito, Bianca Umali, Miguel Tanfelix, Andrea Brillantes and Kim Last in ‘Banal.’

Banal benefits from a cast of budding young actors that represent Gen-Z, with each actor perfectly matching their archetypes – there’s the good girl, the posh one, the “conyo” rich friend, the leading lady, and the boy pining over the leading lady. Bianca Umali competently plays the religious daughter who would risk everything for the promised miracle while Miguel Tanfelix renders an effective portrayal of the quiet hero. It’s nice to see a film deviating from the obligatory love angle, the script allowing its actors to excel without the need of a cheesy showmance.

Kim Micheal Last does his best in a thankless role of being an eye candy. Andrea Brillantes shows improvement in her performances, making the average viewer admire her efforts. While Taki adds the much needed personality and color to the story.

Despite lacking a directorial credit, Banal is actually quite a pleasant surprise. There’s more to it than your standard jump scares. Ripe with coming-of-age sensibilities, the film serves insights on effectively dealing with stress and pressure, and hashing out differences among friends and religious beliefs.

The cinematography is also shot beautifully, with each frame replete with details. The camera movement functions well as if it’s weary for something frightful to happen. The use of CGI is passable notwithstanding the potential for improvement.

The choice of shooting location is indeed perfect. It’s almost believable that they manage to shoot everything in a real haunted forest. One of the most terrifying scenes is the part where the characters enter a dark cave. It is scary enough to give an unusual experience in a local horror film. It doesn’t go for cheap scares and shock but it goes for lasting shivers – the ones that the viewers would remember if ever they get lost in the woods or the next time they set foot on a mountain.

Suffice to say, Banal proves to be an effective Filipino horror film. Despite some of its narrative lapses, it achieves its goal to terrify and unsettle audiences. This is a worthy addition to the twisted new era of the local horror genre.

4 out of 5 stars
Produced by APT Entertainment, ‘Banal’ stars Bianca Umali, Miguel Tanfelix, Andrea Brillantes, Taki, and Kim Last.  It is produced by APT Entertainment. 100 minutes. R-13.

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