Though lauded as a pioneer and a respected veteran in the Philippine film industry, Erik Matti remains a hit-or-miss with his endeavors. While it is through that he has highly elevated local cinema by introducing an international level of quality in cinematography and visual editing, many film-goers still complain that a pretty picture is not enough to balance out bad storytelling and mismatched acting directions. A glaring example of this is his latest horror venture, Kuwaresma.

Kuwaresma starts out as  a simple horror-mystery where a college boy (Kent Gonzales) starts being haunted by his twin sister (Pam Gonzales) following her recent suicide. He returns to his provincial home where he finds his father (John Arcilla) acting like nothing is wrong, and his mother (Sharon Cuneta) who condones this behavior in complicit silence. He decided to stay to investigate why his sister haunts him and blames him for a sin he cannot recall, and why his parents are acting that way. What follows is roughly an hour of inconsequential events desperately holding on to the original plot.

The problem with Kuwaresma is that it relies too much on shock factor, and I don’t mean jumpscares by that. Like most of Matti‘s recent works, there is always a heavy inclination to be edgy and sensational that, more often than not, it happens for no reason other than for the sake itself of being edgy and sensational.  There are many scenes with shocking “plot twists” and personality changes that serve little to no purpose at all. There are a lot of gaping inconsistencies and convenient plot devices as well – one of which is a wiccan/shamanic woman who happened to live in the house before the boy’s family did. She does a lot of graphic “voodoo” rituals, such as pinning live butterflies by their wings and burning mementos to have her visions, but helps the family later on via a Catholic exorcism.  The plot itself isn’t really that bad – but only if you read a summarized version. Watching it is like a fever dream with a hard dosage of “And this Then this Then this” syndrome – where things just happen after another without it trying to form a coherent thought at all.

One thing I can appreciate about the movie though is that Matti has a way of presenting local settings as though it were an exotic foreign location. He did this amazingly in Buy Bust, and I’m glad he continues it here. There is also appropriate lighting (something which most local horror productions still can’t grasp) as well as excellent use of shadows. There were some questionable camera movement like the disembodied drone-like panning of the house done near the beginning of the movie and was never done again (which leads one to think that it was an experimental shot that was kept). The music would’ve been great if it weren’t a hodgepodge of different styles. There were some scenes that had “unholy choir” music and disembodied chants which would have been nice in increasing the tension of that horror scene were it not coming from left field. It’s almost like unused scores from Matti’s earlier works were just being repurposed for this movie.

Acting for Kuwaresma is a mixed bag. Both Kent and Pam are newcomers – and it shows. They both display an “acting for the immediate scene” syndrome as little to none of their emotions or motivations  carry through the entirety of their performance. John Arcilla and Sharon Cuneta were both amazingly expressive in their roles though it tends to be a little too dramatic at times. There were also some abrupt personality changes here and there so you’d have to wonder if the inconsistencies lie in the acting or the directing.

All in all, Kuwaresma isn’t really a must-see movie. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table besides visual treatments and the nerve to bring up a lot of taboo material than what the local mass market is used to. Erik Matti has recently released a statement wherein he says that the state of the local film industry is in dying and someone must be held accountable for it. He also states that he does not know why local movies are flopping, though he cites that online platforms, international movies, or the audience outgrowing the local scene maybe probable causes. If Kuwaresma flops, he should take it as a sign that it’s not always just about being different and radical and better-looking. Sometimes, it just has to make sense, to be consistent, and to have a decent story. Sadly, Kuwaresma doesn’t have any of those.

Reader Rating4 Votes
The Good
It's pretty, You'd never guess these were all done locally
Horror aesthetic done right
The Bad
The try-hard edgy script
The jumps in logic
It's own delusions of grandeur. The movie really thought it did something, huh?