Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Healing (Chito S. Roño)

Oh, here we are again with what I would call a 'pattern' horror film: One convoluted curse, several people destined to die and some twists here and there. Call it a localized "Final Destination". With Chito Roño's very own "Feng Shui" being the first local film to use this horror formula to great effect, it's just great to see him retrace his 2003 roots and is now directing "The Healing", a visually stunning film that's hindered by some thematic contrivances and slight predictability. 
It stars Vilma Santos in a role that many brand as the commemorative performance for her 50 years in the local film industry. Acting aptly as her character, Seth, but dressed quite awkwardly as her typical governor self, Vilma Santos slightly distracts from the film's horrifying atmosphere of murder and disturbances, as her various looks in the film fits better inside a capitol building rather than within a moody horror film. But other than that, "The Healing" is particularly well-acted in the sense that everybody is in on the film's whole spirit of dread and disgust. Well, maybe except for Vilma Santos herself, whose outfits make her look quite untouchable from all the horrors that the film has to offer. 
Now for the supporting cast (that which includes Kim Chiu, Martin del Rosario, and Pokwang among others), although they were reduced to the stereotypes of 'alive now, dead later' characters, they have still pulled off their respective characters quite convincingly. But despite of that, I personally hate the Odong character, played by seasoned veteran Robert Arevalo. With Odong being Vilma Santos' character's cancer-stricken father who was miraculously healed by faith healer Elsa (played by Daria Ramirez), I know where Chito Roño and company is coming from when they've written the character the way he appeared on-screen. 

Taking on an attitude of an old-timer making up for lost time, and with that I mean retreating back to his good old adolescent mentality consisting of naughty flings and some wet dreams, this Odong character was written just for the sake of humor. But then again, considering the utter seriousness of the film's story and thematic elements, his character is just too distracting. Just when I thought that I'm ready to let myself be magnetized by the film's horrific allure, here's Mr. Arevalo nonchalantly entering the frame with his cheesy comic presence. Why was he written to look that way? I, for the life of me, do not know. If he was created as a humorous breather, then I think the character is a failed attempt at that. What he succeeded to be is a distraction to the film's otherwise nice exposition. He is as unnecessary as the film's gigantic title card atop a hill.  
As for the film's story, it's safe to state that there's nothing new. It is already given that one by one, because of a curse, the movie's pitiful characters will predictably meet their bloody demise one way or another. But aided by the film's beautiful cinematography, this all too familiar pattern is transformed into a cinematic feeling of Freudian helplessness. The term that Freud has coined for it was 'involuntary repetition'. Perhaps we've seen it all before. Perhaps we know that when everything seems right in a horror film, it really isn't. Perhaps we're aware that when a killer is seemingly lifeless and lying on the ground, he really is just playing possum. These are some of the thematic repetitions that we are always experiencing in horror films, and Chito Roño utilized the concept here in "The Healing" quite successfully. 
Yes, we already have this conscious idea that, obviously, Vilma Santos will certainly be one of the survivors in it. But we're still drawn to the film just like how a cat is always fascinated with a ball of yarn. It's indeed a bona fide weekend thrill ride of a film, but it is not because of its originality, sorry to say, but because of its familiarity. Chito Roño (along with writer Roy Iglesias) played its audience through every suspenseful twists and bloody turns with great mastery of execution, but sadly, the scares are all surface. The 'shriek and it's gone' type of fear is what the film is all about. 
Ironically, the thing I consider the most disturbing in the film is the idea of faith healing itself in how it has swayed countless minds towards irrationality. The next one is the all too contrived color motifs. 
Maybe mirroring Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy on how it has visually and emotionally channeled the colors of France's national flag, "The Healing" is more than obvious in coloring itself with the hues of the Philippine flag, and for what reason? Well, maybe because the film tries to be a commentary about how our Filipino society reacts to mass hysteria, religion and the supernatural. 
We have already seen the devastating effects of these sociocultural enigmas in Ishmael Bernal's "Himala", and here in "The Healing", we now revisit them again. But this time, we do so with a heart not inclined towards absorbing the profundity of a commentary but leaning more towards enjoying the meager thrills. "The Healing" could have succeeded in a much deeper level, but as it turns out, the only aspect that the film has succeeded to be deep in is the literal wounds displayed on-screen.


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