The much-anticipated Mikhail Red’s new movie “Eerie” is an excursus in the horror genre with a vintage feeling, and it is the first Filipino horror movie to have an international premiere in Singapore. A big media hype is accompanying the film everywhere, understandably generated by the impressive quality of the director’s previous body of work.

Eerie” screened at Udine Far East Film Festival

“Eerie” is set in the mid ‘90,in an all-girl campus of the Sta. Lucia Academy, where school guidance counselor Patricia Consolacion (Bea Alonzo) has a special ability in communicating with troubled students. She is a dedicated and emphatic person and her gentle and friendly manners make the students at ease and allow the conversation to flow. Her great concern for one of the students who has a tendency to self-harm is genuine and seems to work, at least temporarily. But Bea’s gift of communication extends beyond the rational world, as she seems to have initiated a contact with the ghost of a student who had committed suicide years before. The ghost seems benign albeit still roaming a purgatory limbo, and Bea uses her professional methods to counsel the tormented entity.

When a student of the Academy is found dead, the Police is called in and all the evidence seem to point toward the elderly school caretaker Fidel who is too quickly arrested and publicly shamed. Meanwhile, the strict school principal Sor Alice (Charo Santos), worried for the school reputation more than for the students’ safety, urges the staff to pretend nothing has happened. But, predictably, her instructions will prove useless.

“Eerie” is a horror movie that wants to diverge from the other Filipino films of the same genre and it does it smoothly and with a certain class. The visual is gorgeous and extremely atmospheric, thanks to a stunning and elegant photography, a desaturated warm palette and a perfect location; the crumbling building and the religious atmospheres, the long corridors with flapping curtains and the sharp echos really live up to the title.

However, director Read has crammed into “Eerie” a lot of themes and topics, maybe more that it can possibly takes. The Sta. Lucia Academy is a box full of juicy treats; mental illness, bullyism, self-harm, faulty education system, domestic violence, corporal punishment, government disciplinary system and also a (rather clumsy) hint to homosexuality prejudice. All of the above under the strongly symbolic wings of St. Lucia, the blind Saint who carries her eyes on a plate, as the film reiterates every so often.

All these topics are of great interest and gravity; problem is that the film struggles to scratch the surface of any of them and spends a lot of time creating the beautiful and atmospheric texture that envelops them.

Unfortunately, while trying to diverge from the Filipino horror standards, “Eerie” fails in proposing anything new and instead it builds up the tension with very tired and conventional tools of the trade. Jump scares abounds, paired with unexpected spikes in the sound, and the frequency of them ends up making them totally ineffective; after the umpteenth one of them you start to wonder if you are missing something (maybe an ironic subtext?) and in the meantime drowsiness occurs. I mean, how many times can we see the protagonist bending over the sink and revealing a scary face in the mirror? How many times have we seen this trope before?

This formal lack of freshness wouldn’t be too bad if supported by a brilliant story, but even on this department I was left disappointed. The plot is in fact pretty basic ghost routine with a very predictable final twist. Moreover, with the characters being only briefly depicted and developed, confusion is a very likely outcome. As the students are all wearing the same uniform and have the same Sadako-style hair, the poor characterization doesn’t really help in remembering which is which and who’s done what.

Bea Alonzo is excellent, her eyes, her slow walk, her OCD traits in arranging the stationery on her tidy desk construct a subtle and disturbing character. Charo Santos also is a strong presence of the movie, shame she hasn’t got much screen time and her character leaves us wanting for more.

“Eerie” feels like a style-exercise and in that respect it earns top marks, however, as a whole, it can disappoint for a lack of a strong script and a genuinely unsettling and jump-scare-free aftertaste.

On paper I am an Italian living in London, in reality I was born and bread in a popcorn bucket. I've loved cinema since I was a little child and I’ve always had a passion and interest for Asian (especially Japanese) pop culture, food and traditions, but on the cinema side, my big, first love is Hong Kong Cinema. Then - by a sort of osmosis - I have expanded my love and appreciation to the cinematography of other Asian countries. I like action, heroic bloodshed, wu-xia, Shaw Bros (even if it’s not my specialty), Anime, and also more auteur-ish movies. Anything that is good, really, but I am allergic to rom-com (unless it’s a HK rom-com, possibly featuring Andy Lau in his 20s)"