1999 Manila, Philippines. Ms. Pat (Bea Alonzo) works as the guidance counselor in a conservative, all-girls, Catholic high school. Secretly a clairvoyant, waits at her desk every night for midnight therapy sessions with the ghost of Eri (Gillian Vicencio) – a student who committed suicide in the school grounds more than a decade ago. Her routine is shattered when a student is found murdered on campus.
The murder is quickly pinned on the school groundskeeper, the only male employee on campus. He admits to the murder despite no clear motive. Pat suspects the true culprit to be the feared Sor Alice (Charo Santos), the school’s tyrannical Mother Superior. Julian (Jake Cuenca), a police investigator, enlists Pat’s help to uncover clues from the secretive students. Sor Alice, satisfied with the previous findings, proceeds with the victim’s memorial. With no living witness, Ms. Pat turns to the sole watcher of the school – Eri.
Director Mikhail Red says: “As a filmmaker and storyteller, I grew up in Manila, the capital of a predominantly Catholic country. I personally studied in a Catholic exclusive all boys school for eight formative years. The school setting is fascinating, serving as a parallel world of adult society that comes after it. In our school, faith and prayer are woven in with the curriculum which served as a foundation for our morals and principles. The belief in the afterlife served as a breeding pool for the acceptance of the supernatural.
“Substantial help for students going through the trials of adolescence remain elusive. I believe with the film, I am able to smuggle in these critical issues and layer it through the horror genre narrative. The perfect integration makes it easier to be digested by the targeted youth and a much wider audience. In the end, Eerie is a story of people caught in between the hauntings of the supernatural and the natural frailties of the world”.
Eerie marks Mikhail Red’s first venture in the most popular horror genre in Filipino cinema, along with sweet rom-coms. The previous films of the son of famed indie director Raymond Red were dealing more with the dark side of Filipino society, as in Rekorder, Birdshot (about wild extra-judicial killings in the province) or Neomanila.
Eerie is a very clever “exercice de style” on the familiar theme of strange phenomenons happening in a (Catholic) school for girls. As Mikhail. Red says himself: “The school setting is fascinating, serving as a parallel world of adult society that comes after it.” A number of recent films, good and bad, have used the same settings to create a scary atmosphere in a catholic milieu. Among the good ones are mainly Erik Matti’s Seclusion, and Raya Martin’s Smaller and Smaller Circles, both recently shown in Udine with an audience success.
Caught between the real and supernatural world, in a religious and austere surrounding, the film constantly gets back and forth from reality to the imaginary, on a carefully balanced scale. Actually, the familiar story is but a pretext to create a stage atmosphere, through the magic of direction and visual tricks, like the scene where Pat is trying to use her matches in the dark, one after the other, with an increasing suspense.
Using the main actresses’ abilities (with Bea Alonzo as Pat, and Charo Santos as Sor Alice, in a rare come back to the big screen) at their best, and with a stylish cinematography by Mycko David, Mikhail Red succeeds in giving us the creeps, and almost makes us believe in some kind of neighboring inferno. Amen.