FILM REVIEW: Eerie4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
In the Philippines of 1995, guidance counsellor Pat is a listening ear for all the students of St Lucia’s Convent. Compassionate and empathetic, Pat grieves with her girls after one of them commits suicide in a bathroom stall — the same one in which another student, Eri, died years before. What the St Lucia’s girls don’t know, however, is that Pat possesses a clairvoyant ability, one that allows her to become a sympathetic ear to the ghost of Eri, who has never left St Lucia’s halls. After the mysterious death of yet another girl at the convent, Pat decides to use her ‘sessions’ with Eri to dig deeper into the troubling phenomenon.
Director: Mikhail Red
Cast: Bea Alonzo, Charo Santos-Concio, Jake Cuenca
Review by Jean Wong
Ah, the classic horror movie trope: mysterious deaths occurring in a convent school. A place of holiness and sacred education, and a prime location for hauntings — at least on the silver screen. As Mikhail Red’s first venture into the horror genre, Eerie does a fair job at creating tension, occasionally catching the audience off guard – but a more notable aspect of the film would be its conscientiously unravelled story and its thoughtful social commentary.
Knowing that they’re getting themselves into a horror film but not knowing how it would appear on the screen, the audience usually begins a horror movie with a sense of apprehension. It is up to the director to exploit this advantage. For Eerie, Red pulls it off well in some scenes, but less so in others. Here’s a good one: in a scene where Pat (Bea Alonzo) is trying to sustain her matches in a dark room, the intensity of the eerie atmosphere increases to a disturbing level. The constant materialising and fading of the flame — putting the scene in brightness and darkness alternatively — leaves the audience in fearful anticipation of what might appear on the screen when the flame next lights up. It is definitely a brilliant tactic Red employs to create tension; unfortunately, this level of intensity isn’t consistent throughout the film. As the film progresses, the scares become repetitive and almost predictable.
On the other hand, while it may not necessarily provide the horror many were hoping for, the story develops considerably towards the end, with a climax that succeeds in capturing the audience’s attention. The anxiety of not knowing whether Pat can survive St. Lucia as she unravels the mystery keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.
Needless to say, the impressive acting skills displayed by Bea Alonzo and Charo Santos definitely strengthens the heavy emotions brewing in Eerie. Sor. Alice (Charo Santos, in a rare return to film) is the principal of St. Lucia’s convent, and she is an intimidating — even menacing — presence who enacts punishment on both students and teachers. Unlike Sor. Alice, Pat is a more empathetic character. As a counselor, she fills in the role of an understanding figure that the students could turn to for help. Evident in the different ways each of them treats their students, this spills over into the compassionate way Pat approaches the terrifying mystery of the students’ deaths as opposed to Sor. Alice’s dismissiveness. The movie cleverly plays on the contrasting archetypes of the two characters to bring about intricate layers into the story. As Red mentions in an interview, Eerie was meant to subtly instigate a discussion on mental health issues and break away from the conservativeness in his country. Sor. Alice and Pat each seem to represent opposite sides of the current situation in the Philippines — the former being the strict and traditional group; and the latter standing for a more progressive ideal. Certainly, it could be observed that the characters were well thought out, and the juxtaposition between Sor. Alice and Pat is a delightful narrative decision, the actresses bringing a simmering tension to the screen.
Ultimately, Eerie is a decent horror movie considering it is Red’s first attempt at the particular genre. If you’re looking for some really unnerving scares woven into a frightening film, Eerie does fall a little short in that aspect. But looking at Eerie through its compelling narrative — rather than focusing on its scares — makes the movie a much more rewarding one.
While its debut screening is over, Eerie will also be getting a wide release in Singapore in the first half of 2019, so be on the lookout for it! Meanwhile, Mikhail Red’s Birdshot is available on Netflix internationally, for anyone who wants to see more of his accomplished work.
If you want to know more about the making of the film, check out our interview with Mikhail Red and the cast here.
Image credit: SGIFF