Movie review: Sunod

January 08, 2020

LAST year, we reviewed four local horror flicks and we said they only proved that it’s really hard to make a successful horror film as not one of them succeeded to scare us: “Eerie”, “Second Coming”, “Kuwaresma” and “Clarita”. Now, we just had “Sunod” in the MMFF and after seeing it, we now understand why it was preferred over “The Heiress” as the lone filmfest horror entry.

It’s definitely better made than “The Heiress”, which did a disservice to Maricel Soriano for making her wear a wig that is much more scary than the movie itself. Like what we always say, it’s very important in horror movies to have lead characters that the audience will totally sympathize with and care for, so that we can be truly frightened for their safety.

In “The Heiress”, Maricel is the predator and we certainly don’t empathize with her or any other character. It starts with a man running in the forest being harrassed by a supernatural force and we don’t feel anything for him at all since we don’t even know him. In “Sunod”, we have a very sympathetic lead character, Olivia (Carmina Villarroel), a single mother who loves her only daughter, Anelle (Krystal Brimner), very much. Anelle is sick, languishing in the hospital with a congenital heart ailment. Olivia needs money for her treatment, so she applies to work as a call center agent in a company housed in an old building owned by the family of Mylene Dizon. It turns out to be haunted by the diabolical spirit of a little girl who follows Olivia home and eventually possesses the body of her daughter.

The film, as directed by Carlo Ledesma (who used to be based in Australia and got to direct a horror film there titled “The Tunnel”), is technically well crafted. A great asset is the superbly evocative cinematography by Mycko David that establishes the right atmospheric mood. The buildup is slow and credible, but somewhere in the middle, the script becomes unwieldy and doesn’t seem to know where to take the supernatural story for a truly convincing and satisfying conclusion.
    
At first, you’d think it’s about a restless ghost who seeks revenge as her remains are still in the old building, not given a proper burial, but the story wants to be more than that. The ghost kills people around Olivia, like JC Santos as her immediate superior in the call center who just deserves to be punished as he wants to take advantage of her, and Kate Alejandrino as her kooky best friend.

Olivia is then taken by her daughter, now possessed by the ghost, to the mother of the dead girl, Susan Africa. From this point, the narrative gets really more awkward and confused. We meet Freddie Webb, the father of Mylene Dizon, doctor-owner of the old building which has a sinister history. It is said to be an old hospital in the 1970s where some mysterious things transpired.

The storytelling becomes even more nebulous. The young Freddie Webb is played by Victor Silayan, and his wife is Roxanne Guinoo, who is seen only in old photos. It seems the girl (Rhed Bustamante) was used in some kind of a weird experiment and died mysteriously, with her mother, played by Susan Africa never knowing whatever happened to her.

The script raises a lot of question that it fails to answer. Since the girl died in the 70s yet, how come she and her mom waited for so many decades before haunting someone to sow mayhem? Why didn’t the ghost quickly exact revenge from the old man who did her in?  At first, you’d think the title “Sunod” means the ghost following Carmina (sinundan siya), but later on, Susan Africa, when she’s about to butcher Carmina, says: “Ikaw ang susunod.” Susunod saan? It was never made clear what she really intends to do.

The film also included some plot elements like that red ball of yarn that’s spinned like a spider’s web, but it is never clearly explained what exactly it is for. Looks like Susan wants to use it as some kind of conduit to connect Carmina’s body, through her navel, to something looking like it’s borrowed from the “Invasion of Body Snatchers”, with victims imprisoned inside cocoons that seem more like silly nonsense.

The movie offers some good acting, but even an accomplished cast cannot fully save the movie from an incompetently written narrative that becomes even more and more stupid as it goes on. And for the usual surprise twist in the ending, we see the lead character, who we thought has already escaped from danger, suddenly being confronted anew by the demonic evil spirit. Ho-hum. Sorry but we’ve seen that kind of ending countless times in other more blood-curdling horror flicks, both local and foreign. Director Carlo Ledesma obviously knows the whys and wherefores of filmmaking but for his next project, we wish he’d get hold of a better script without as many holes in it as in this movie.