Pamahiin (Rahyan Carlos, 2006)
English Title: Superstition
In horror, sometimes less is more. In his first feature Pamahiin (Superstition), director Rahyan Carlos throws that advice right out the window and in return comes up with a horror film that wallows in its own blubber. He opens the film with a CGI-crafted black butterfly exploring the exteriors of a provincial manor; the insect's fluttering backdropped by an ominous musical score that hides no intentions. Carlos follows up the opening sequences with what he supposes is a technically efficient long take. The camera follows (with no cuts) a young kid inside a funeral parlor while playing hide and seek. After his count-off, he explores the funeral parlor to look for his friends, while witnessing an onslaught of death-related superstitions related by the deceased ones' relatives to those who unintentionally breaks them. The long take ends when the kid gets trapped in one of the rooms, wherein a ghost appears begging him to join him.
It's a silly set-up. Technically, the long take wasn't even astounding. If Carlos' intention for the long take was to establish himself as someone who could actually pull it off (I understand long takes do require non-stop rehearsals to create pitch-perfect timing), it wasn't worth it. His camera wafts through the well-lighted interiors of the funeral parlor with a noticeable unease. The sequence stinks of overkill. I am already quite aware that the horror film's basis are Filipino superstitions (hence, the title) and to put me through artificially-staged lessons on Filipino superstitions is quite a punishment.
The kid grows up to be Noah (Dennis Trillo), who comes home to the provincial town with his girlfriend Eileen (Iya Villania), to pay his respects to departed friend Damian (Paolo Contis), who supposedly killed himself. The two broke one of the death-related superstitions and went straight home after visiting the dead, inviting the spirits of the dead to their house. In no time, apparitions of a little girl, their departed friend, and other pitiful souls start appearing in their midst. Noah wonders about his other friend Becca (Marian Rivera), Damian's sweetheart, who was sent out by the townspeople because of the witchly ways of her mother (Jacklyn Jose). One by one, more deaths followed Damian's, leading to Noah and Eileen trying to find out the reason behind everything.
If the opening sequences of the film already turned you off, the rest of the film would be a pain to go through. Carlos has no subtle bone in his body. He flaunts around his ghosts (made up with bright blood reds, and powdery whites) so many times that the scare factor loses its effectivity. Carlos particularly accompanies the unsparingly appearing wraithly visions with thunderous sound effects and eerie musical scoring that belittles the viewers' capability to feel fear on their own. The production design is atrocious. Carlos aims for grandeur in almost everything and forgets the tenet of realism; it seems that Carlos dreams of a Filipino town that sadly does not exist, so instead he makes up one to disastrous effects --- a town wherein almost every citizen is aware of superstitions, and wherein witchcraft exists alongside avenging ghosts.
Carlos' story is also bombarded with plot holes and illogical scenes. The characters aren't very well-developed. For example, I am really not sure why Noah has so much concern over a friend who in their childhood, only teases and bullies him. There's not a scintilla of credibility over the characters' intentions and actions which are totally dumb and irrational. Carlos claims that the film is about Filipino superstitions pervading the social consciousness that in turn, drives our fears and suspicions. However, the film falls flat by betraying the initial idea (which was overkilled by over-emphasis) and replacing it with a plot point that somehow puts the blame to a maddened Satan-worshipping witch. So what's this, Carlos insists that superstitions are false, and instead, all our misfortune is merely a product of a disgruntled hag? Ha, ha, ha, very funny.