The year 2019 has been a monumental year for the Philippine horror genre with quite a number of Pinoy horror flicks making a killing at the box office. Well, of course, the Metro Manila Film Festival would not be complete without its very own scary movie, which used to be the regular slot occupied by horror trilogy Shake, Rattle, and Roll and the like. So, what a way to cap off the year as we save the best for last, with Sunod—directed by Carlo Ledesma, headlined by Carmina Villaroel and Krystal Brimner, and produced by Paul Soriano’s film outfit Ten17P? I'd like to go on and declare Sunod as the best Filipino horror film of the last year of this decade.
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Right from the first frame, with cinematography by Mycko David, the film’s look is straightaway impressive and I had no doubt that it would bag the Best in Cinematography award, which is so very well-deserved. The opening scene is a stylized nightmare which reminds me of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell and instantly, I’m hooked. +4
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Carmina Villaroel carry a film on her own and she does so effortlessly from beginning to end. Never mind if she never looks haggard even though she’s supposed to be lacking of sleep, but her portrayal of a mother who would do and give anything for her child resulting in supernatural repercussions is one of the strongest female portrayals I’ve seen all year. +3
Krystal Brimner plays Carmina’s daughter who essentially had to play two roles, and if you read between the lines with the horror genre in context, you’ll probably get why. At only 13, she was nominated, not in the Best Child Performer category but as Best Supporting actress along with heavy weights Meryll Soriano and Yeng Constantino—who eventually took home the plum prize. Brimner’s performance is a revelation and demonstrates her leap in prowess as an actress after winning Best Child Performer during the 2015 MMFF. +3
The rest of the support cast—Susan Africa, Kate Alejandrino, Mylene Dizon, Rhed Bustamante, and JC Santos —all deliver nothing less than stellar performances, with each of them having a substantial character arc to move the narrative which is a rare find in any film. If it were up to me, I’d give all of them nominations in the Best Supporting category or even an acting ensemble award. I’d have to credit the script and/or the director for meticulously giving depth and dimension to these characters. +4
Among all the horror films this year, I can certainly declare that Sunod is the most narratively solid of the bunch. It is the only material that effectively ties all the planting of details and payoffs altogether in the end, pun intended. +3
Part of the world building of the film was the milieu of the hospital turned call center, which for the life of me, I don’t know why they would even think of doing. Of course, it's haunted! But the movie’s production design sells this conceit, garnering for it the Best Production Design award. The result is art deco slash industrial chic that would be the source of nightmares and definitely adds to the mood that the film needed. +2
This is a material that has been intelligently directed and I give mad props to Carlo Ledesma for helming this film so craftily. He creates an almost perfect balance between visual poetry and clever storytelling, while some other films often times suffer from choosing style over substance. Although he retains some horror genre tropes which are somewhat necessary to give the audience the expected chills, he has also come up with ingenious other scare devices aside from the cliche jump scares. +4
Garnering a total of 23 points and and the Third Best Picture Award, Sunod is definitely a must-watch in this year’s MMFF. Not only is it the best pinoy horror flick of the year, it is also undoubtedly one of the most finely crafted films of 2019. This makes me even more intrigued at how good Mindanao and Write About Love are, films that attained higher honors at the awards night. Could this be one of the best MMFF’s in history? With high hopes, I am looking forward to this upward trend gearing up for 2020 in Philippine movies.
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Images courtesy of Sunod on Facebook