Cast: Ronnie Alonte, Rhed
Bustamante, Lou Veloso,
Neil Ryan Sese, Phoebe Walker,
Dominic Roque, JR Versales,
John Vic De Guzman
Directed by: Erik Matti
Produced by: Reality
Evil does not lurk only in the dark. It thrives in religious rituals and in church altars. Agents of dark forces come in the most charming ways and the Bible warns—“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”—Matthew 7:15 (Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible)
The vulnerable and the weak are enticed, but those gifted with discernment refuse to partake and flee. This, in essence, is the gist of Erik Matti’s horror oeuvre, Seklusyon which is currently packing cinemas nationwide as one of the leading entries in the 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival.
Set in 1947 after World War 2, deacons or aspiring priests are required to go on seclusion for seven straight days as the final test before ordination. It is during this period that everything that happens is the work of the devil, which needs to be fended off, according to Sandoval, the caretaker of the monastery where the deacons are lodged.
The lock inside is not so someone can’t break in but those inside cannot get out, he tells the new arrival, Miguel, who finds out there are three others already there—Fabian, Carlo and Marco.
As the four young men get settled in their new environment—no talking is allowed so they are told to introduce themselves at dinner for once—in a parallel dimension is Padre Ricardo investigating the validity of the miracles wrought by young faith healer Anghela in Quezon Province. The young priest sees in his own eyes the claims of the “patients” that they are healed, as the girl vomits squid ink-like liquid caught in a vessel held by Sister Cecilia, a nun who serves as Angela’s aide and nanny always by her side.
Fighting off their own demons, the aspiring priests are hounded by their conscience and their sins in the past—like one who did not share food to his brothers during the war resulting to their death; the other secretly hates his mentally-deranged mother; and Miguel, for leaving his girlfriend whom he may have impregnated.
As the story unravels, with the violent death of Anghela’s parents and the nun nowhere to be found after the gory murders, Ricardo confronts the bishop about the shady character of the female religious but is told bluntly that he should just concentrate on his investigation focusing on the veracity of the miracles.
By the bishop’s directive, Anghela and Cecilia are sent to the house of seclusion for “safety” to the protestations of Salvador. Then the horror and revelation begins, which Matti skilfully executes using light, darkness and movements – statues coming to life, crawling creatures at night. Anghela declares that she’s there to help the deacons so they can achieve their dream of becoming priests but not without saying “people choose what is easy rather than what is good.”
Padre Ricardo’s investigation brings him to a farther province and learns that Cecila was a teacher who hated children, in fact, one died under her care and Anghela was her student. The nun was raped by soldiers and her face got burned, but as the priest already saw, Cecilia has flawless skin. He concludes that the partners are demons, masquerading as saintly creatures.
It’s through dreams that Miguel gets the message, and wants to save his buddies, but the three—with the assurance of the girl mystic who’s to proclaim herself as new bishop —fight him off instead.
Matti’s aim to scare viewers is successfully achieved out of the screenplay of Anton Santamaria, enhanced by the sepia cinematic artistry of Neil Bion, plus the music of Francis De Veyra.
As Miguel, Ronnie Alonte lacks intensity, but the role doesn’t call for intense acting, in fact it borders on innocence, on sublimeness. The camera loves his face, too; and barring any untoward incidents in his career he can be the biggest star of this millennial generation.
The other three deacons as played by Dominic Roque, John Vic De Guzman and JR Versales also essay their characters with aplomb.
Rhed Bustamante as the young mystic gallantly weaves the story together evoking the right emotion in every situation; same with Phoebe Walker as the nun who commands caution should one catches her leers, stares and glances.
Neil Ryan Sese as the investigating priest and Lou Veloso as the caretaker dominate the screen in their scenes. The way they deliver their short but crisp lines clearly show that they’re veterans ably giving support to the young thespians.
If Catholics, though, take the truths presented by the film, they may question what they’ve been taking by heart as doctrines for so long. The smirk, the movement of the eyes, the meaningful glances, even the sighs of bishops and priests can well be mirrors of what’s going on today.
It’s surprising that the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB) gave Seklusyon only a “B” grade, when in fact it could well pass as “A.”