‘Suarez: The Healing Priest’ review: John Arcilla’s memorable performance

‘Suarez: The Healing Priest’ is a heartwarming film that poses to bring joy and healing this Christmas season.

Official poster of SUAREZ: THE HEALING PRIEST.

Suarez: The Healing Priest is one-of-a-kind entry to this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. It’s a depiction of the life of beloved priest, Father Fernando Suarez, who is fondly known to heal and do miraculous things to people who are physically sick. The priest became well known to many people in the Philippines because of his practice and teachings Just like any other mortals, he went through ups and downs, much to the point that he was implicated in a controversy that sparked rumors among the leaders of the church. Even so, he was vindicated and died peacefully knowing that the movie adaptation of his life story is in the good hands of director Joven Tan and Saranggola Media Productions.

The film literally brings joy and healing. It simplifies the story of Father Suarez from the building of his church, to his personal weaknesses, to his relationships to people around him. While some of the stories were shortened, the film manages to make it understandable in a good way.

It basically celebrates his gift of healing, but it also doesn’t veer away from discussing his troubles, including the many controversies that hounded him. It shows that Father Suarez has gone through human emotions and experiences and fears like any other ordinary people. The selection of cast were good and John Arcilla’s performances never fails to amaze us. He portrayed Father Suarez well enough, knowing that he was handpicked by the real Father Suarez to play the role. Everything from the film is simple and easy-going. Some parts are a bit off because of its cuts but everything else is relatable enough.

The film is no doubt a total blessing for everyone and a timely offering amid the ongoing crisis where many of us are desperately looking for hope. It’s a pleasing film for the whole family this Christmas.

SUAREZ: The Healing Priest is an official entry to the 46th Metro Manila Film Festival. Starring John Arcilla, Jin Macapagal, Dante Rivero, Marlo Mortel, Rosanna Roces, Jairus Aquino, and Alice Dixson. Directed by Joven M. Tan.

Streaming until January 7, 2021 on http://www.upstream.ph.

John Arcilla, handpicked as ‘Suarez: The Healing Priest’ for #MMFF2020

Best known for his portrayal as a tough-as-nail patriot in the blockbuster independent movie, ‘Heneral Luna,’ John Arcilla marks his second time to portray the titular role in a biopic through the 2020 Metro Manila Film Festival entry ‘Suarez: The Healing Priest.’

Before the untimely death of the 53-year old, crowd-favorite, Father Fernando Suarez was able to handpick award-winning actor John Arcilla. The latter explained in a recent intimate press conference that he researched about the life of the priest, and even watched numerous videos to study his movements and behaviors. Not to mention, he was bold in having regular discussions with the source material as well as the filmmakers.

Produced by Saranggola Media Productions, ‘Suarez: The Healing Priest’ is directed by Joven Tan, who is also the composer behind the film’s theme song, “Yakapin Mo Ako,” sung by John Arcilla himself.

The film will truthfully present the timeline of Fr. Suarez’s gift of healing through the years, starting in his teenage years when he first realized his special ability. Young actor Jin Macapagal, who was the grand winner of It’s Showtime’s BidaMan talent search, takes on the role of the young Suarez.

Jin remarked the importance of faith in making this movie, saying that it is through faith that he brought justice to his character that John Arcilla subsequently puts on. “I play the role of that young boy who decided to keep the gift a secret until I pursue my religious calling.”

Joining the cast is Troy Montero as Father Jeff. The last movie he appeared in was ‘Open,’ an official entry to last year’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. Prior to that, he had not been visible in movies. Through the years, he seldomly accepted roles in TV while juggling with his passion for car racing. Troy shared his excitement to be a part of an MMFF movie that will heighten positive through these trying times.

Also included in the cast is Jairus Aquino. Even though he is mostly with actress Rosanna Roces in his scenes, he is proud to be part of a faith-centric movie that does not only showcase the life story of Father Suarez but also brings inspiration to Filipinos here in the country and around the world.

‘Suarez: The Healing Priest’ also stars Dante Rivero, Rita Avila, Rosanna Roces, and Alice Dixson in a very special role, with Richard Quan, Yayo Aguila, Alan Paule, Biboy Ramirez, Patrick Sugui, Jerico Estregan, Maru Delgado, Yñigo Delen.

Let the touch of healing bring posivity and joy this Christmas through the MMFF entry, #SuarezTheHealingPriest. Tickets are now available via upstream.ph. Online streaming starts December 25 worldwide.

Watch the full trailer here:

‘Kuwaresma’ review: Erik Matti’s arthouse horror features delusions of grandeur

Kuwaresma has style and powerhouse performances to spare but its plot crumbles under the weight of its ambitions.

Erik Matti’s latest avenue for arthouse horror, Kuwaresma, is pure aesthetic all the way through. It has style to spare – from its grim production values to its elegant camerawork, the unsettling atmosphere is already palpable within its first minutes. From a visual standpoint, the horror components may be familiar, but it’s sophisticated execution makes it worthy of a double-take. In here, the decrepit ancestral house serves as a symbolical backdrop of the many skeletons that the film aims to uncover. Individually, the associated subtexts make their impacts. Collectively, however, it’s a struggle as the film bites more so than it can chew.

Set in a distant looking 80’s Baguio, a young college lad Luis Fajardo (Kent Gonzales) returns to his patriarchal driven household upon the untimely death of his sister Manuela (Pam Gonzales). Both his parents Arturo (John Arcilla) and Rebecca (Sharon Cuneta) simply say that she’s inflicted with a terminal disease which forced her to commit suicide out of despair. But as far as horror mysteries go, we know that it’s not true. The mournings soon turn into hauntings and Luis is eventually confronted with dark family secrets and malevolent forces that inhabit within the walls of their house. Unlike Matti’s Seklusyon, there’s not much religious superstition fanfare going on here. The film’s title (Lent in english) has a slim relevance to the plot, save for the fact that Manuela is buried during the lenten week, a time when it said that the devil has the greatest potential to tempt mankind.

Tapping into the spiritual realm. Kent Gonzales (Luis) and Guila Alvarez (Salve) performs a ritual.

For one, Kuwaresma could have benefited from a more active protagonist. It’s a tough job to stand toe to toe among two veteran actors and newcomer Gonzales does fine in displaying the confusion and resentment required for the role. His character, however, only kicks into his senses by the second act. In the meantime, the film takes its baby steps in unraveling the secret by favoring on long drawn spooky sequences which contribute little to propel the plot. “What’s outside is inside. Never go inside,” Guila Alvarez’s psychic character offers Luis a vague warning. She seems like a rational person but why can’t she be more direct on what she’s trying to say? For theatrical purpose I guess.

The Fajardo family dines in awkward silence in ‘Kuwaresma.’

With little crumbs of information to lead the way, Kuwaresma can feel dragging. The intense musical scoring and sound design, infused with eccentric foreign chants tend to annoy at some point. Thankfully, the amount of jumpscare is justified to show overall restraint. In one remarkable dinner scene, the horror is merely mirrored through camera pans and facial expressions. Standard scares aside, there’s a lot of themes to be mined from the dysfunctional family in question. The film takes jabs at different forms of delusions of grandeur – how childhood traumas can suppress one’s memory and alter one’s perception. It also works as a commentary on the dangers of apathy in a time of crisis, on abusive relationships, on misogyny and toxic masculinity (albeit the supernatural element involved waters down this effect). As a portrait of family split by a tragedy, there’s an unbearable tension that haunts you for a moment.

Dark secrets hide beneath the Fajardo’s family history.

Matti and co-screenwriter Katski Flores’s show hints of thoughtfulness in their screenplay best exemplified by the oblivious hints peppered along the way, but not enough focus is given to where it mattered the most. As Kuwaresma dives into a crazy third act, the narrative gets dumped with hammy expositions and big reveals – one of which feels unnecessary and unconvincing from a logical standpoint. Counting in the film’s deliberate willingness to leave some questions unanswered, the conclusion leaves you more bewildered than frightened.

If anything else, Kuwaresma remains to be a fantastic display of powerhouse performances. Cuneta blends into the background as a timid mother who gets to take control by the third act. At times she feels overqualified as her presence tends to tip the genre to a melodramatic territory, but nevertheless, her acting prowess is what will attract viewers in the first place. The real showstopper here is the great John Arcilla who terrifyingly portrays his character’s unhinged descent into madness, with so much grit and intimidation that he literally starts to drool in one scene. It’s a fiery performance that rivals Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in The Shining.

John Arcilla (Arturo) personifies the devil in ‘Kuwaresma.’

As Matti’s playground for his clever practical effects and filmmaking skills, Kuwaresma is a fascinating piece of art. For a haunting family tale, however, it tries to be many things at once that the narrative crumbles under the weight of ambitions. It’s not entirely a bad film especially if you’re into edgy and sensational work. Just don’t expect for a logical conclusion.

3 out of 5 stars
Directed by Erik Matti, written by Katski Flores and Erik Matti, ‘Kuwaresma’ stars Sharon Cuneta, Arturo Fajardo, Kent Gonzales, Guila Alvarez, Pam Gonzales and Jovit Moya. Run time: 118 minutes. R-13.