If it comes as a surprise that director Mark Meily—the creative force behind realist blockbusters Crying Ladies (2003) and La Visa Loca (2005), and award-winning period films Baler (2008) and El Presidente (2012)—has joined the horror moviemaking bandwagon, admirers of his work can hope for more than just a deference to the trend.
According to the 48-year-old filmmaker, whose distinctive take in storytelling was honed via a successful career in directing TV commercials—his latest release under Viva Films, Elemento, goes against the grain of typical Filipino horror flicks.
“This is different from the usual horror movies we see, which are generally angled on retribution,” Meily explained in Filipino at a news conference with Elemento’s lead stars, Cristine Reyes and the young Albert Silos. “Ghosts come to haunt the living because of an injustice done in the past, say a rape or a murder, so that the film becomes all about revenge.”
Appreciating the success of Japanese and Korean horror films, which made it as far as the US mainstream, Meily chose to go the way of top Asian horrors—The Ring (2002), The Grudge (2004), One Missed Call (2008)—which organically zero in on the scare factor.
“In the Asian horror genre, viewers will see frightening situations not because there is a disturbed soul seeking revenge, but simply because they happen and they are frightening,” he continued.
In Elemento, Lucas (Silos) a grade-school student who is on a field trip briefly breaks away from his group to answer the call of nature at a nearby bush. Though nothing out of the ordinary, his childish deed seems to alter his behavior, so much so that his own dog becomes uneasy around him.
His mom Kara (Reyes) notices the menacing changes in her once mild-tempered child, until a neighbor suggests that something from the woods may have possessed Lucas.
Reiterating his promise that Elemento will serve up the unexpected, Meily revealed yet another surprise when he said that the movie is actually based on his 25-year-old daughter’s supernatural encounter as a child.
“My daughter was five when we enrolled her in a school, which had a different method of teaching that was almost new age. So instead of praying, the kids would meditate,” he began. “The school was in New Manila where as you know, there are many Balete trees; my daughter enjoyed the gardens of the school as well.”
Suddenly, his daughter refused to go to school, and gave her parents all sorts of excuses. What alarmed Meily the most though was when he told him, “Dad, merong maliliit na maiitim na tao na gusto akong kunin at sumama sa kanila.”
Consistent in her stories about the little creatures, Meily and his wife decided to pull out their child from school for their piece of mind.
“And this is exactly what I would like to emphasize in this movie,” Meily rounded up. “That there are things—or creatures—we don’t see but are real. And yes, they are simply frightening.”
Elemento opens nationwide in cinemas today.