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Erik Matti’s Seklusyon is a thematic expansion of his short film Vesuvius, a hate-letter to the ensnaring pageantry and hypocrisy of established religions, a call for incredulity, an exposé of convents and seminaries as towers also inhabited by tortured souls.
It features a girl named Anghela (Rhed Bustamante), whose popularity as faith healer has reached the Catholic hierarchy which responds with an investigation to check the veracity of the girl’s ‘miracles.’ After recently becoming ‘orphaned,’ and cared by her ‘nun-assistant’ Sister Cecilia, Anghela is permitted by the church to stay in a house where deacons have started to live, the young men secluded for seven days before their ordination. Meanwhile, the assigned investigator-priest verifying the miracles worries for the child, distrusts Sister Cecilia, until he learns later about these two females’ secrets. Events are set in 1947.
The movie has the usual horror genre elements: murders, twin monsters, girl and lady ghosts, crying religious icons, candlelit rooms and hallways. These details establish the tone of the film.
Though the visual elements succeed in keeping the mood dark and evil, a few factors unnecessarily disrupt focus. The movie’s sound was uneven, some parts a little offensive. Sometimes, especially for outdoor scenes where the camera is focused on the investigator, you could hear splintering twigs or branches–or chirping birds, at almost the same volume levels of the speaking voices. Also, the text quotes from the bible that appear on screen feel like intertitles of a silent film which rob us of our capacity to figure out some mysteries ourselves. Add to these the weak performance of Ronnie Alonte- supposedly the ‘strongest’ of all the deacons, especially in those crucial scenes where a range of emotion is needed, and what he could give is a good-for-afternoon-soap opera delivery of a dialogue, looking a little self-conscious or blandly motivated, seemingly eschewing the demands of the character at that moment.
Notwithstanding these ‘negatives,’ the movie is superior in many respects, particularly its cinematography and production design. Seklusyon’s climax, wonderfully alludes to some biblical sacrifices , and ends gloriously ‘celebratory’ it made me ask and wonder what religious denomination Erik Matti belongs to now. Rhed Bustamante is exceptionally good too for a child playing this challenging role, fitting the frames cinematically especially in long shots of her walking in the woods, wearing that white plain gown, her long hair resting on her shoulders when she ‘hounds’ the doubting deacon, or, when she dons a bishop’s mitre and vestments, photoperfect in her stance, eerie and majestic as she gazes and speaks like a sly, old soul. The child actor’s innocence has been wrapped and ‘suffocated’ by shadows, and it’s not just the wonders of lighting or make-up responsible for her convincing turn. Her internalisation is short of being by a genius, her strong and manipulative spirit so natural, which stays and boggles you even when the movie’s done.
The film is irreverent and thought-provoking, capable of shaking someone’s faith. Before, we were moved to tears by rituals, moved by staring at the sad-eyed figurines. During Holy Week these human-sized wooden idols are jammed, together in one covered court, flowers festooning them, wilted. We look at each statue and wonder what spirits could inhabit or possess them, our country an archipelago of superstitions, a lot of our people curious and amazed by news of the dancing Sto. Niños, of miraculous waters, of ‘visiting’ relics on parade being protected by big umbrellas while devotees are sniffling and coughing drenched in the rain. We listen to a garbed priest officiate a mass, and don’t completely believe him. He repeats words and prayers. Many times we question his sincerity. Sometimes he delivers them hastily, words blared by cheap speakers also sound like mumblings as a result of a too echoey mic. We’re not ignorant of some priest’s or religious leader’s immoral acts that when we see them in these religious gatherings about to speak, we quickly leave the church building enraged seeing the celebrator blaspheme the event , in the same vein that many pastors declaiming and exclaiming and shedding tears at large-scale rallies sound and feel fake. The truth is it’s just a job for them from which their group’s coffers directly sluice to them leaders’ bank accounts, the sect or group corrupted to financially ‘support’ them and help to construct their own private mansions, to bring their anointed one’s children to study at exclusive schools abroad, to bring them to gain political clout and national renown.
Seeing those wolves in sheep’s clothing looking triumphant in their mission, ready again to set up another base or territory for ‘business’–is the film’s most terrifying ‘gift.’ We must be careful on who to trust and on where to invest our faith in. We need to be skeptical, believe, not just with our hearts, but also with discerning minds. We need to scrutinize our religious associations, the movie, in the end, warns us.