By JAMES TUCKER
Starring Bea Alonso, Charo Santos-Concio, Gillian Vicencio
Directed by Mikhail Red
Written by Mikhail Red, Mariah Reodica, Rae Red
Produced by ABS-CBN Film Productions, Cre8 Productions, Star Cinema
Religious horror has a special place in my heart. Any horror film that attempts to have an conversation with itself about the nature of belief and evaluates the consequences of holding said belief (like exploring how, say, a religious upbringing can inflict trauma on some despite the good intentions of everyone involved) immediately has my undivided attention. It’s just as well, because EERIE doesn’t get a lot of that, despite having scored a spot on Netflix’s Halloween Favorites category; which I actually think is a shame, because the Filipino paranormal horror film is a traditional ghost story that explores the consequences of abuse in the name of religion and the failure of religious institutions to handle mental illness properly. Most importantly, it manages to do most of that pretty well!
EERIE follows clairvoyant Catholic school counselor Pat Consolacion (Bea Alonzo) that has been communicating with the spirit of a little girl named Eri (Gillian Vincencio; also, get it? Sounds like EERIE. You get it.), who hung herself in one of the school’s comfort rooms. In the process of trying to uncover what happened to this girl, other students start dropping dead, mysteriously murdered by people with no known motive; and Sor Alice (Charo Santos-Concio), her employer and authority figure at the school, appears to be doing everything to keep her from digging further. It’s not really hard to figure out who the bad guy here is or what is happening around the school, and if you’ve seen your fair share of paranormal horror movies you’ll likely know what’s going on. But with EERIE it isn’t so much about the destination as the journey, and director Mikhail Red is a master of misdirection. Several times I thought I knew where a scare was going to come from, and he pulled the rug out from under me by doing something different, scaring me in a different (and not easily foreseeable) way. He also knows how to keep the pressure on, with subtle shocks scattered throughout; one of the best was one where he focused the camera on a long hallway, and I saw something move out of the corner of my eye, a shape retreating from view. (I actually rewound the film to catch that one.) It puts you just enough on edge that every single time the main character steps into another dark hallway or returns to the school, you’re peering into the darkness waiting for some shape to announce itself.
“EERIE suffers from a predictable story but excels in execution, making it a traditional ghost story more than worth a watch.”
That being said, the story is the thing I love and hate most about this film. Our main character Pat acts as kind of a surrogate for the audience as she comes into contact with a number of girls who have been failed by the “prayer solves everything” attitude of the school, including a suicidal girl who Pat counsels a number of times through the film. She’s the other side of the coin from Eri, who had nobody to help her through her depression, getting bullied by the other kids, or (it’s hinted) the abuse she suffered because of her sexuality; this girl, by contrast, has Pat, and the film has this hopeful note to it of maybe we can learn from our mistakes. Maybe religious institutions can learn from the stories of those who they’ve hurt if they truly wish to do better, and maybe the next kid’s story will have a happy ending. Words cannot express how much I love that message. Unfortunately, it’s wrapped up in a bit of a predictable story. The questions of whether not Eri is malevolent, Sor Alice’s motives in not addressing the murders properly, and how and why people are being murdered are all fairly obvious, and if not obvious then lacking in creativity. I found myself a little disappointed when the film reached its climax, just kind of hoping for something a little more out of the box; the lack of action from the spirit itself, the need to inhabit another (random) body (but also not; this movie’s possession logic is strange) to kill, and the ease with which the spirit was defeated cheapened what came before for me, as did the film’s insistence on ambiguity throughout when it was going to settle for the most obvious answers to the questions it posed. I still managed to enjoy it because the execution itself was solid, but it definitely could have been better.
I was looking for a traditional ghost story when I sat down to watch EERIE, and with EERIE I got it. This film is nothing mind blowing, and it likely won’t be among your Halloween favorites, but it’s more than a decent watch; and chances are, if you’re looking for a traditional paranormal horror story with characters that will keep you invested, gripping atmosphere, subtle scares, and a fair share of boogity boogity bullshit, well, you might just wind up enjoying it. I’m giving EERIE a 7.
Happy October everyone. In the middle of all the chaos that’s been this year, we damn well deserve it.