Dan Villegas found his niche in the romantic film genre since making his successful directorial debut in Mayohan, a tale of young love starring Lovi Poe and Elijah Castillo, that was screened at the 2010 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.
His follow-up project, English Only, Please, is about a heartbroken Fil-Am business analyst (Derek Ramsay) who falls for an English language tutor (Jennylyn Mercado), and it turned out to be a surprise hit at the 2014 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).
His succeeding works—The Breakup Playlist, (starring Piolo Pascual and Sarah Geronimo, 2015), Walang Forever (starring Jennylyn Mercado and Jericho Rosales, 2015 MMFF), Always Be My Maybe (starring Gerald Anderson and Arci Muñoz, 2016), and How To Be Yours (starring Bea Alonzo and Gerald Anderson, 2016)—were all romantic comedies that also made money at the tills.
For his first offering in New Year 2017, Direk Dan has chosen to take a detour from the rom-com route and try his hand at the horror genre in Ilawod.
Taken from the word’s meaning, downstream, Ilawod depicts how a happy family is torn apart by a water elemental spirit, also known as an ilawod, which possesses its victims until it pulls them down into deathly depths.
Horrifying events begin when head of the family Dennis Carandang (Ian Veneracion), a news reporter assigned to cover supernatural occurrences, goes out of town for a story on an ilawod possession.
Dennis unwittingly takes the bad spirit home to his wife Kathy (Iza Calzado), son Ben (Harvey Bautista), and daughter Bea (Xyriel Manabat).
While in the city, the ilawod takes on a human form, that of a young, pretty, and seductive teenage girl (Therese Malvar), who befriends Ben and terrifies Bea.
Dennis and Kathy connect Bea’s scary experiences to Ben’s rebellious ways as he enters puberty. They soon find out that something otherworldly is behind his sinister behavior, and they all fall in the same dreadful trap.
Direk Dan, along with scriptwriter Yvette Tan and the cast, succeed in building up horror in every scene, so much so that you may think twice about living in a high-rise condo complex equipped with an infinity pool.
Its aesthetic seems to be heavily influenced by the Asian horror genre since it does not rely on jump scares to amp up the terror. The gradual buildup leads to a slow-burn movie that is unusual for this Pinoy genre.
The use of darkness and light is maximized to elicit a sense of dread and foreboding about the unfolding events.
However, the film resorts to mainstream gimmickry when it turns up the music way too loudly in certain scenes, making it all-too obvious that at that point the film is attempting to scare viewers.
Ian infuses his character Dennis with a deep sense of insecurity as he deals with the fact that his wife (played by Iza) earns more than him.
With her expressive eyes and body language, Therese elicits fear whenever she makes an appearance. She’s so frightening that her victims win the sympathy of the viewer.
Iza, Harvey, and Xyriel get you quite involved in their characters’ misery that you end up rooting for them to overcome the ilawod, so that they can go back to where their family used to be.
Alas, hope is dashed for the optimist viewer when Ilawod ends up feeling like an unfinished movie.
Ilawod is a good-enough horror flick, but it could have been much better with a story that stays with the viewer long after leaving the cinema.
Ed's Note: The 'PEP Review' section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial team.