The Three Wise Monkeys in Rico Maria Ilarde’s Altar (2007) October 31, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinema One, Indie Sine, Noypi.
Directed by Rico Maria Ilarde
Written by Rico Maria Ilarde and Mammu Chua
Cast: Zanjoe Marudo, Nor Domingo, Dimples Romana, Dido dela Paz
Call it a sick fetish but I have this tendency to put in a positive light filmmakers who make good use of Klaudia Koronel as an actress, even for a small role that’s enough for her to shower her effortless provocation, that very representative of carnal pleasure bordering from gut-busting hilarity to nerve-wracking hysteria, which, in the heart of things, and in all grave seriousness, what makes her a very effective actress, in such damn way that Kristine Hermosa and Marian Rivera must dig their respective holes in their yard, stay there, spare us from nightmares, and never come out until the end of the world. Not that this attempt to watch all her films has been successful – – I have only seen a handful, and imagine how keen I am to see her first starring role in Augusto Salvador’s Walang Dayaan Akin Ang Malaki (No Cheating, The Biggest is Mine) for years. I am sure she has already reached the peak of her career in Jeturian’s Tuhog and Reyes’ Live Show, which, thanks to MTRCB’s unflinching inutility, got a lot of publicity when they were released and earned a slew of supporters for the films’ merits. I recall Rico Maria Ilarde’s Babaeng Putik (Woman of Mud) used to be shown in cable back in high school, sometimes during weekday afternoons or late nights when everyone wanted to be anywhere except on the couch, and I remember, quite vividly, how Klaudia Koronel’s character would come out from the tree and scare the wits out of Carlos Morales’ chiseled abs. I find the film frightening at that time, even funny for some of its ludicrous moments, but nevertheless it fills the idea of scare that is different from the tiresome scream flicks we used to eat that time – – films whose notion of horror is not as a genre but in the outcome itself of the work.
Ilarde continues to challenge himself with the possibilities, perhaps he is still on his way to discovering nameless alleys and untouched screws of speculative fiction’s boundless curves and corners, and in the process of sculpting troubled men who are physically able yet emotionally disturbed, men whose priceless means of comfort is escape from their ugly past and uglier future, he comes up with works that are filled with so much quirk and interest, stories that are fermented for long years not only because they take so long to be thought over but also due to studio executives’ narrow idea of sensible horror, that if there is one filmmaker in this field to watch out for, then Ilarde is the surefire hitman.
Altar is a step forward, yet before it comes to its harrowing end, there are unusual turns and excesses that I find unnecessary or weakly executed. The dialogues occupy most of the film’s revelations, disabling the visuals to speak well for the conveyance of the mystery. Again, is being verbose a cultural thing? Even if it helps pushing the narrative to easier comprehension, too much talk between Anton and Lope undermines the mystical atmosphere of the house. There is just too much talk – – too much mucus and too much lubricant – – that spoils the tension of revealing the horror, which weakens your appreciation of Louie Quirino’s subdued grip of Ilarde’s vision. The addition of subplots can either lead to stronger characterizations or less focus, and it does both – – putting impressive weight on Anton’s burdened sportsman character by meeting a maiden from a nearby townhouse, sharing a brief romance that lets him tell his sorrowful past, and tending to give room to usual drama that perhaps Ilarde’s way of showing that despite his lenience to fantasy his stories are still very much rooted to everyday life, everyday drama, human weakness.
Anton’s interest in the occult is somehow unclear, if not dubious, which if only the story has put a chunk of dialogue in making his intentions tangible may pave the way to our reception to the turn of events with less skepticism. True, his concern with the strange happenings in the house mirrors our own anxieties toward the supernatural – – Ilarde may be a bit hesitant – – but it will only nudge the fragile narrative a little, not so much to let it fall down and break, if we are spared from wondering, because may it be human nature to intrude to matters beyond our limits, it may also prove literary incapability or distrust. Furthermore, in a film that relies heavily on sound design and music, any misplacement of noise or silence can feign its intentions and mask even its sincere mastery.
This may sound like a grand pretentious joke but I must tell you, after all the misgivings I lined up above, these complaints are what make up a must-see movie. It takes an awful lot of experience and commitment to deliver a genre film against the odds of stupid studios who don’t know the difference between screaming and faking it, between scare and fear, between the bluff and the real thing. The feel of a B-movie builds an ambience of obscurity that adds to the adventure of uncovering a secret, of solving a riddling truth, of carrying over a failed destiny, and of looking out from a cross-shaped window, eyes filled with bitter tears, bereft of happiness and freedom. Altar digs deeper on the ancient formula that “all it takes to make a horror film is a haunted house,” building more houses with more secret rooms and more cobwebs and more shrines that suck up human bodies for nourishment and human souls for longer life.
I have this idea that if you cut Zanjoe Marudo in half, the two pieces will be markedly different, as if they come from two markedly different people. Marudo has that strange enigma coming out of him, he is neither great nor horrible, virile nor effeminate, outstandingly smart nor incredibly stupid, but there is something about him that reminds you of dual presence, maybe of classic representations of a man and a woman, of doubts written all over his face and body that give emphasis on his words, of enabling sensuality that even himself is not aware of. In that brief moment while he is in the kitchen, tasting the food that he is cooking, out of nowhere he moves his hands and jerks his torso as if dancing – – but in truth he is under a spell of a dream, and we are obliged to see it as a hallucination.