You know an Erik Matti film when you see one: it has action, a social issue, and a moody atmosphere. Seklusyon has all these and a whole lot of scares.
Matti’s Seklusyon is set in 1947, and follows four young deacons as they go on their seclusion, a one-week retreat in a remote location. It’s a ritual done by aspiring priests so they can stay away from the devil’s temptations, which is known to be strongest on the last seven days before they enter priesthood. They are supposed to live in peace, until a young healer named Anghela Sta. Ana and her companion Madre Cecilia join them. Soon, the deacons experience supernatural events, with evil forces preying on their deepest fears and darkest secrets.
Matti is a director to watch as his recent films seem to be tackling social issues. On the Job was a commentary on corrupt politicians using inmates as hitmen, while Honor Thy Father dealt with blind faith in religious sects. In Seklusyon, the director is still fascinated with religion, except this time, in how people can be manipulated using their fears or by granting their heart’s desires.
It’s a worthy subject, especially in the Philippines, where the Catholic church plays an influential role in public matters. The commentary is subtle compared to Matti’s previous films, and focuses more on the horrors the deacons endure. On that aspect, the film delivers. Seklusyon has become the benchmark for Filipino horror movies, veering away from bad makeup and special effects, and relying on moody lighting and the promise of a good story.
Matti is a master of mood-setting, and Seklusyon is a visual treat. The color of the film gives a patina of melancholia, and hints of the horrors to come. The film doesn’t care to fill the entire screen with characters or objects, and the director is happy to leave the edges in the dark, making the viewers wonder what will pop out in the corners. Yes, there were a few jump scares, but it doesn’t overdo it.
In terms of acting, Rhed Bustamante as the young Anghela is just as intoxicating as the film’s atmosphere. She takes on the challenge of playing Anghela, and she exhibits a certain depth and maturity. This is especially true in her last scene with Neil Ryan Sese, who portrays Padre Ricardo, a priest investigating the authenticity of her powers. Phoebe Walker as Madre Cecilia is potent, her eyes expressing so much in just a single glance.
The deacons, played by Ronnie Alonte, Dominic Roque, John Vic de Guzman, and JR Versales, are able to convey the many tortures they experience during their seclusion, but I would have loved to see more character development, especially their darkest secrets.
Seklusyon is a step up from the horror movies we’ve had of late. The industry has pretty big shoes to fill, but I’m excited to see where it will go. I’m also excited to see what Matti has in store next.
Seklusyon is one of the eight entries of the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival. The other seven films are Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2, Die Beautiful, Kabisera, Oro, Saving Sally, Sunday Beauty Queen, and Vince & Kath & James. All films are screened in all cinemas nationwide, and will be screened until January 7, 2017.