A good girl with a secret.
Who does not love this storyline? Time and again this hook has been exploited for its promise of intrigue, romance, and danger. Who is not interested to see what monsters lie underneath?
Not a lot of people may relate to Owl Butterfly, an advocacy film about childhood sexual abuse and its repercussions in adulthood.
It is, after all, a touchy issue better read about as news rather than examined in a dark cinema on your free time.
Despite the subject's lack of appeal for mainstream moviegoers, the film does immerse us in the suffering of a fictional victim and convincingly walks us through her recovery process, making it a great reference material for people seeking to help victims of abuse.
Elementary school teacher Abby (Glenda Resurrecion) has just gotten engaged, but instead of being enveloped in warm, fuzzy feelings like most brides-to-be, she is plagued with savage dreams, cannot sleep without medication, and is obsessed with the personal problems of one of her students.
On top of it all, she is repulsed by physical contact with her fiancé David (Chino Alfonso).
Driven out of his wits, David attempts to coax her into explaining her odd behavior and to confess any secret she may be hiding from him.
But instead of turning to him for help, Abby ends their engagement and descends into a downward spiral, before ultimately deciding to confront her past.
With the help of the soft-spoken psychotherapist Eden (Joyce Ann Burton Titular), Abby traces the years back to her childhood to examine the deep-seated pain, anger, and frustration that continue to manifest in her present.
Frankly, OWL Butterly succeeds as an advocacy film, but not really in creating a satisfying moviegoing experience, not because of its dark subject but because of its lack of restraint.
It wallows in excessive rage and melodrama that are overdrawn—and oftentimes theatrical—to the point of being hilarious, thus distracting the audience from the point of crucial scenes.
It is, however, commendable for the use of devices to express psychological haunting and to draw out sadness where it counts.
From time to time, we are jarred by Abby’s ghostly dreams and the eerie appearances of a young girl choking on her tears in the dark and repeatedly asking her why no one saved her from the violation.
Owl Butterfly understandably portrays a victim with low self-esteem and who feels undeserving of love from a respectable man, but not one who can acknowledge her inherent wants and desires for love and intimacy at the same time.
This gives the audience the freedom to have various interpretations of Abby’s character and her approach to recovery.
But it is difficult to sympathize with a victim who seethes with rage and nothing else.
Abby lacks the redeeming value and humanity essential to gaining sympathy. She is middle-aged, lacks charm and emotional intelligence, is proud and unaffectionate, and treats her fiancé badly.
For all her pain and torment, there is little to endear her to us and make us empathize with David’s saint-like veneration of her.
Thank goodness her impassioned hysterics are put in context by Eden, whose soothing presence serves more as a relief for the audience than her patient does.
If not for the convincing portrayal of the scientific process of counseling, the movie would have been an empty shell.
We identify with Abby as a tormented victim but not anything else.
Even when her tempest has passed and her skies have cleared, there is nothing in her that changes profoundly. She is still as haughty and guarded as she was before it all started.
We might sympathize more with David, whose expression of frustration feels very real and whose tenacious vow to stand by Abby’s side despite everything is touching.
On the other hand, this may be the deliberate direction taken by directors Blessa Zarate and Remigio Zarate for our heroine’s characterization.
They may have wanted to portray her as a woman who is healed and complete no matter what and whoever comes into her life.
But as emotional as Filipino audiences are, most would still root for an Abby who emerges from Hades stronger and complete, but is also visibly open and accepting of the good things life offers.
While Abby is on a spiritual retreat, she provides a poignant explanation of the film’s title. She muses on the ability of the owl butterfly to repel predators by its odd appearance.
She then wishes that children would have the ability to drive away abusers and filter through the societal dictate of blind obedience to elders.
This is a key message that we hope will stay with the audience and be passed on to children everywhere.
Notwithstanding the cinematic inadequacies, Owl Butterfly is a thoughtfully-researched film, and is capable of answering real questions about victims of childhood sexual abuse.
It is a mirror of Filipino society’s indifference and hidden disdain for victims of sexual abuse and the few good men and women who rise to the challenge of helping them through their pain.
Owl Butterly was produced by Anastasia Film Productions, an outfit dedicated to producing films tackling social issues veiled in controversy.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.