‘Clarita’ review: Overwhelmingly spooky yet yearning for complexity

Clarita scares enough to make an impression but lacks layers of complexity to be truly memorable.

Black Sheep’s first horror movie, Clarita, goes beyond targeting the millennial market by adapting the real-life demonic possession story of Clarita Villanueva. This infamous urban legend that harkens back in 1953 should appeal to the older generation at the very least. During that time, the titular young prostitute was reportedly arrested for vagrancy in Malate, Manila. Inside the jail, she eventually displays a wild and disturbing behavior, claiming that she’s being hounded by unseen demons. Mayor Arsenio Lacson (Nonie Buencamino) witnesses the paranormal activity first hand as mysterious bite marks suddenly appear in her body. Soon, the uncanny deaths of the doctors assigned to her case necessitates the services of a pair of exorcist priests – Fr. Salvador (Ricky Davao) and Fr. Benedicto (Arron Villaflor) to help her flush out the rabid evil infesting inside her.

With the slew of horror flicks in 2019 so far, Clarita marks the third local film to feature the subject matter of exorcism (Mark Meily’s Maledicto and Erik Matti’s Kuwaresma are the first two released earlier this year). This subgenre of demonic possession may be something that we have grown familiar with, yet Clarita’s execution definitely overwhelms with spookiness and grotesque horror through its excellent technical execution and most importantly, a chilling and inspired performance by Jodi Sta. Maria that should keep you on the edge of your seat.

Fr. Salvador (Ricky Davao) and Fr. Benedicto (Arron Villaflor) have their faith tested in ‘Clarita.’

Likewise, the supporting cast delivers. Davao bears a world-weary wisdom to his padre role; while Villaflor’s mild-mannered demeanor very much reminds us of his character Joven in Heneral Luna and Goyo. Here, he plays an inherently good yet blinded priest who thinks he’s on the good side all along. On the other hand, Alyssa Muhlach holds her own as a photojournalist who carries a personal baggage during her crusade to cover Clarita’s case.

With the exception of some minor anachronistic details, the production values, from locations to costumes, contribute a lot to set a sinister mood. The play of shadow and light works well in dimly-lit scenes to build a sense of weariness for something frightful to happen. Also employed are visually aesthetic transitions as the present timeline is infused with flashbacks, and distinct camera angles to make Clarita’s demonic antics scarier, even if she’s used as a peripheral image at some point. The prosthetics and visual effects are commendable too for a locally produced horror. The film’s indulgence for violence forces the casual viewer to cover their eyes, yet at the same time, guiltily take a peek at the bloody fascination in display.

An emaciated Jodi Sta. Maria gives an all out performance in ‘Clarita.’

While the performances and productions are fine, the ambiance of the film is still stilted by some lapses in story and characterization. Clarita’s narrative feels clunky and rushed because it neglects the precious humanity that this film is supposed to be set upon. At times, it feels inept in establishing a deeper connection with Clarita – that there’s more to her than her diabolic inclinations. It’s just pure exorcism, like she’s just a random soul that unfortunately gets picked by the devil. Further, the film is too crowded with characters bearing various issues that it ultimately fails to solidly focus on anything, including the main character’s origin.

Clarita can be commended for injecting spiritual and moral values in faith and forgiveness, on emphasizing the power and salvation of God’s love amidst sinister forces. It begs to have a more personal connection – that it’s a relevant viewing for people who have experienced being spiritually challenged at some point in their lives. The film, however, doesn’t fully earn the commendation, as most of the time, it’s true intention is to terrorize its audience in the most shameless methods. If that’s what you’re really after, feel free to knock yourself out.

3 out of 5 stars
Directed by Derick Cabrido, ‘Clarita’ stars Jodi Sta. Maria, Ricky Davao, Arron Villaflor, Romnick Sarmenta, and Alyssa Muhlach .  It is produced by Black Sheep Productions and distributed by Star Cinema. 85 minutes. R-13.

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