Mikhail Red’s mystery horror film ‘Eerie’ loses its steam by relying on derivative jumpscares and ultimately, a run-on-the-mill storyline.
Back then, I’m so impressed with Mikhail Red’s Birdshot that I saw it twice in the cinemas. His recent Neomanila, despite my reservations on the build-up of its ending, still works just fine. Needless to say, given his track record, I have high expectations for his first attempt at mainstream horror. Eerie turns out to be one of those slow burners, but that’s just a gentle way of saying how actually dragging its proceedings can be. Whatever layers and depth that this film has, eventually gets drowned by one horror trope after another. Maybe it’s time to temper my expectations from here on out.
Sure, the gorgeous technical filmmaking is still there. Helped in no small part by Mycko David’s classy and desaturated cinematography, Red sets a sinister atmosphere via an opening montage of the girls of Sta. Lucia Catholic school engaged in their disciplined routines. A proverb lifted from the book of John is engraved in one of the statues, “Those who believe without seeing are blessed.” It’s a foreshadowing on the theme of blind faith that will be touched along the way. However before it gets there, the film spends its first half dallying on repetitive jumpscares – the long and winding corridors, the vivid nightmares, the abandoned cubicles which are reminiscent to Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, etc. With the exception of a tension-filled scene involving a matchstick, the scare execution here is almost as tedious and shameless as last year’s The Nun. It’s disappointing that this multitude of cliches works against the elegance and subtlety that the film establishes in its first act.
Another letdown will have to be the film’s inadequate character exploration: an aspect that Red has proved to be excellent in his previous films. This is a case of a character serving the narrative but not so much the other way around. In here, the intrepid clairvoyant guidance counselor Pat Consolacion (Bea Alonzo) tries to uncover the truth behind the death of her student, by communicating with the ghost of another dead student named Eri (Gillian Vicencio). Until the third act, Ms. Pat is an outsider who’s never really in a direct threat, apart from administrative sanctions. Not that it needs to be structured that way, but given that the mystery itself is not really thick enough, the lack of grave urgency bogs down the film. Alonzo does most of the heavy lifting here to project a likable character who gets to do a lot of snooping and getting scared for the most part. Along the way, the film hastily inserts her backstory, but this too, weakly ties to the film’s general arc.
At its most daring side, Eerie takes jabs at Catholicism’s rigid religious beliefs and practices best embodied by a terribly underused, high-caliber actress Charo Santos-Concio as the head nun, Sor Alice (pronounced as A-li-che). Juxtapose this with the modern peer counseling methods of Ms. Pat, the film offers a controversial discourse on corporal punishment serving as a link to the cycle of aggression and violence. But it does not really linger much on this commentary for it to really stick. To create more tension, the film could have capitalized more interactions between Sor Alice and Ms. Pat.
Eerie boasts striking visuals and compelling performances, but these are not enough to save its underwhelming plot. As a mystery thriller, there’s simply not enough misdirection and red herrings to keep you hooked. I guess the film could have been commended for stepping outside the conventions of folklore horror – an overused subject matter in Philippine cinema. But once the twist is revealed, this too, is just another rehashed horror plot.
There’s much potential for Eerie‘s ending shot to feel poignant but the way it’s built up ends bereft of emotion. It could have been many things – issues on mental health, bullying, homosexuality are all passed by like a gust of wind. By favoring cheap thrills, it loses the biting commentary to truly haunt your core. To borrow a Catholic dogma, I have to confess that this one left me cold.
2.5 out of 5 stars