Four years after debuting at the first Cine Filipino Film Festival in 2013, Mike Alcazaren’s horror opus Puti finally gets a commercial run.
Moviegoers have a chance to see if this psychological thriller is worth its critical success years back.
Art forger Amir Luna (Ian Veneracion) is a virtual recluse. Day after day is spent in his home studio producing fantastic and well-priced replicas of contemporary Filipino paintings he supplies the black market through his dealer (Leo Rialp). His mechanical dedication to his sham opus is only interrupted from time to time by fatherly duties to his young son Jaime (Bryan Pagala) and the visits of his apprentice Nika (Jasmine Smith), a pretty young art student who assists him in his work in exchange for some lessons.
Amir has grown comfortable in his grind and even takes more pride in his forged paintings than his originals that never see the light of day. He exchanges few words with his dealer when the latter comes to his studio to collect finished work or commission new ones; Jaime is pretty much left to his own devices to loiter around the house or tinker with his tools; Nika comes and goes, obviously enamored of him but silent.
His small satisfying world is ruffled when one day when he and Jaime suffer a car accident that left him with color-blindness and his son in a coma.
But things are not yet bad enough. Strange things begin to happen in the aftermath of the accident. He begins having surreal dreams framed as if they are among the strange artwork he replicates. The images on his canvasses disappear and come to life in his studio, violent and ghostly images of people around him torment him, a strange young nurse comes to read to his sleeping child every night.
Compounded by the impossibility of delivering work commitments without a sense of color and the financial pressures of paying his son’s ballooning hospital bill, Amir is bound for a downward spiral that may or may not have a way out.
Puti is not a talkative film to begin with, allowing it to progress visually and revel in the silent buildup of dread and madness.
Despite its forbidding mood, however, it remains a visual treat with a generous display of intriguing art—most prominent of which were those of Geraldine Javier— that serves to reflect unspoken turmoil within the characters like the sadness of children and desire for escape.
Amir’s surreal dreams seduces the viewer with an otherworldly beauty that puts you at ease before your heart is yanked out of your body and splattered on the wall. Gorgeous visuals combined with an ambient score makes Puti a living proof that Filipino horror can be refined and will work sans the customary jump scares.
Seeing it for the actors alone is not an altogether bad idea either as the uncomplicated plot —which moves glacially by the way—endears us to the small band of characters.
Ian Veneracion credibly played a man who is only one more disaster away from a breakdown. He is self-assured of his work but unsure of himself as a person. With a dead wife, a young child to care for, and a career that has not taken off, he has resigned himself to a mundane existence in which a certain amount of dignity. He harbors a certain distaste for his work and rarely speaks to his dealer but also clings to it tenaciously because of need.
Despite this unsavory occupation, we sympathize with him and roots for him to find his way out of the maze of nightmares.
Jasmine Curtis, who over the years, have become an indie darling was not given much to do here but her presence is enough to generate interest. She did not have much dialogue but her subtle expressions did all the talking. Her conflicted look conveys a silent desire to be let inside the heart of the broken man she adores but has good sense not to take advantage of his fragile situation.
Puti tricks the viewer into thinking that it will not fall into the deus ex machina trap, but it does.
All the emotional and mental investment that went into making sense of what was happening were wasted one fell swoop when a minor character appears in Amir’s final nightmare and narrates it all for him in a desperate effort to put an end to the madness that has accumulated and wrap the film in a morally-acceptable ending.
In the last few minutes if the film, director Alcazaren abandoned the ship and refused to make sense of the chaos. In the end, we are left with striking imagery which, despite the appeal, becomes nonsense.
See Puti for its alternative take on horror and its visual elegance. While it all exploded in the end, it cannot be denied that there is originality in thought and execution rarely seen in Philippine horror.
See it too for your personal catharsis. We all relate to Amir and Nika on some level. Savor the feeling in the dark, away from judging eyes.
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.