It takes a lot of patience to really get scared by goings-on in “Ilawod.” Once the build-up is complete, though, it will be hard not to have mouth hanging and chest pounding.
The movie is about possession but not as many of us know it. There are no head-spins, no levitations, no mumbo jumbos, no priests jumping out of windows, no counting backwards, for crying out loud. Instead, ruin comes in the form of a malevolent water nymph forever in kamison and walks around without slippers on (are you scared yet?). It follows a father – a journalist who had just documented the Ilawod’s most previous victim – back to his residence then exacts revenge on him by seducing his teenage son.
The supernatural horror in “Ilawod” becomes real because every other element in the story sets it up to be so. Parents with lessened quality time for their children because they have to focus on work, kids who are allowed to bring friends into their room, a condominium for residence, reliance on CCTV to monitor the surroundings, hard times, numbing routines – all so familiar, right? So when a monster from folklore emerges amid and despite the modernity, the viewer buys into it as well.
All the actors are superb in their roles but those that stand out are Iza Calzado and Therese Malvar. The former’s breakdown scene is so heartrending it makes you want to haunt down anyone who had caused it. The latter’s girl-ghoul mix is a deadly combination made in hell. Harvey Bautista, who is being introduced in the movie, is a natural. Ian Veneracion? As my seatmate pointed out to her boyfriend who promptly made her “kutos,” the actor remains a “Bae-neracion” even in troubled times.
We love it that the music in “Ilawod” only heightens tension instead of cueing the viewers on what to feel. See, the technique of many horror movies is to turn up the volume to startle viewer but we are spared from that here. The clinical atmosphere that pervades the condominium unit (where most of the action happens) casts subliminal gloom and serves as foreshadow. The silence is not only deafening, but even suspicious at times.
A director best known for rom-coms, Dan Villegas did well in “Ilawod,” his first horror film. Even if it doesn’t do as well as his past works at the box office, his career can only go upstream from here.