Movie: Pagpag, Siyam na Buhay

"Pagpag: Siyam na Buhay"

I feel like I’m going to get flack for saying this, but… I really didn’t like Pagpag. Mostly because I hated how they twisted the superstition of ‘pagpag,’ giving the new generation the wrong idea about it; but also because I wasted money on a film with a very flimsy story that makes no sense.

It’s not the worst film to come off the 2013 Metro Manila Film Festival, I still award that title to Kaleidoscope World, but it’s definitely not the best.

But before we go to what didn’t work, let me list down the things that the movie did right:

Pagpag knows how to shock. Unfortunately, after the first two times, the shock factor wore off. But early on in the film, it does the shock thing pretty well.

Number two, the film has Matet de Leon and Janus del Prado, the only two actors who does any acting in this head-scratching ‘horror’ film. Oh, sure, we can say the others ‘acted’ too, but it’s just Matet and Janus who actually gets any semblance of a fully-formed character.

Now, let’s start with the bad:

‘Pagpag’ the superstition is unnecessary to the plot. The producers just wanted a gimmick. And, in fact, one scene in the film looks obviously tacked on–the one where Matet’s character lists down the superstitions that the characters didn’t follow, making it plain to viewers how each one will be killed off.

The thing is, the film doesn’t need the superstitions. You have villains who made a pact with the devil. They need nine souls to be brought back to life. That’s a pretty solid premise right there. Forcing the superstition gimmick actually ruined the film’s potential.

Then again, even if the superstition gimmick worked, there’s the problem of the characters. Save for Matet’s and Janus’s character (whose names I can’t remember), none of the characters are likeable. Leni, our female lead, is stubborn and frigid. Which makes her lack of customer service know-how understandable, come to think of it.

Leni works as a proprietor of a funeral service business. She’s supposedly knows all about superstitions, but doesn’t believe in them. Regardless of this fact, as a service-oriented business person, she should still respect her clients, right? Well, she doesn’t. No wonder she’s not getting any business.

And then there’s Cedric. If you’re not a fan of Daniel Padilla, you’re going to hate his character right off the bat. He’s hot-headed, rash and unapologetic, he is unfeeling (which makes him perfect for Leni, I guess), and he never really thinks about what he does.

I’m not even going to list the other characters down. They’re canon-fodders, basic stereotypes of the jock, the bitch, the narcissist, and the fool–and they’re only in the movie so the villains have someone to kill before they move in on the two leads.

Come to think of it, Matet’s and Janus’s character might also be as flat as the others–except the two are such consummate actors that they were able to create something out of nothing.

Pagpag isn’t a horror film. A horror film scares you because you are made to believe that the events of the film can happen to you. Or, you know, because you care about the characters enough that you don’t want them to die. But there aren’t that many demon-worshipers who adhere to superstitions for us to actually be afraid of one coming after us. And we definitely don’t care about the characters enough (heck, we don’t even really know who they are) to be afraid for their lives.

The film is horrifying, sure, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s basically a film vehicle to pander to the fans of Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo. And it does the two a great disservice, since instead of improving their crafts, they’re relegated to a film that actually highlights their limitations as actors.

For example, Daniel Padilla should never act scared again. Or horrified. His rebel without a cause acting goes against the helplessness needed for a horror film. How’s a guy supposed to act apathetic when there’s a demon worshiper going after him?

And Kathryn Bernardo as self-sufficient and independent? The girl’s every movement screams damsel in distress. And what’s up with the bourgeois accent she’s trying to affect? She works at a funeral parlor for the not-so-rich–why can’t she talk like a normal Filipino?

I almost forgot Paulo Avelino is in this too. I feel sorry for the guy. Every time he gets a good project, it’s followed up by one that takes him back down to not-a-leading man status. GMA Network misused him, and ABS-CBN seems intent on never letting him shine brighter than its home-grown talents.

Had Pagpag been written with the actors’ strength in mind, and without the forced gimmick of using superstitions as a means to die, then the film might be a thousand times better. The fans of the Padilla-Bernardo love team deserves better. And woe to the parents of said fans who were forced to suffer through this film. (And people like me who had to make do with this because there was no Shake, Rattle and Roll film to go to.)

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