Movie: Haunted Mansion

"Haunted Mansion"

Ella is a girl who can see dead people–a fact that does not go unnoticed by the ghosts of a retreat house where Ella and her classmates have to spend a weekend reflecting on their lives. When her schoolmates try to discover if the horror stories about the retreat house are true, they unwittingly awaken an evil being bent on keeping an old family scandal a secret. And it us to Ella to stop the evil from killing her schoolmates one by one.

First, I want to get something straight: I’m a fan of Jun Lana’s independently-produced films. They’re smart, heart-tugging, and inspiring for a storyteller like me. Which brings me to the reason why I need a disclaimer in the first place: I don’t understand how a brilliant mind like Jun Lana (in directing and writing) can produce something like Haunted Mansion.

Of course, I know that this is a Regal film. I know I shouldn’t expect something earth-shattering. But Regal Films is the production outfit that produces the Shake, Rattle, and Roll franchise! At the very least, they should know how to do horror right. But, alas–

I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Let’s start with the main reason why I don’t think Haunted Mansion is a good horror movie: the story is too complicated. Every single thing has to have an explanation. Why is this ghost doing this? Why is that ghost going there? The flashbacks, the segues, the expositions–instead of feeling like natural progressions for the story, they feel like sandbags that weigh the movie down. And the characters don’t even work for these information–they’re all handed to them by peripheral characters!

And then there’s the disconnect with the main character. Ella is supposed to be the person that the viewers will root for–but her muddled characterization makes it hard to even understand what she wants. She has issues with the way her father died. She can see dead people. She has a crush on a popular guy. Her best friend just told her that he likes her– So many things are happening, and the only important thing here should be her father issues. Which I feel was sidelined by the love triangle that feels forced anyway.

It doesn’t help that Ella’s actress, Janella Salvador, only shines when she’s fighting back against her oppressors. Well, the fighting back scenes and the ones she share with Jerome Ponce. It’s obvious that the actress has a preference as to which love interest she wants to end up with.

Then there’s the casting of Ingrid dela Paz as the rival. I don’t know if this was a given, but they should have picked someone else to play the popular girl who has it in for the underdog. Mostly because Janella is prettier than her and has better fashion sense. Also, she’s nice. Anyone who has gone through high school knows that those three things will instantly make you more popular than the bitch no one wants to cross. They should have gotten someone who was prettier. Or, at the very least, not used the very tired trope of the popular mean girl.

Now, if they were bound by the casting of Ingrid, the film’s wardrobe department should have intervened. What was so difficult about making Janella more dowdy, and putting Ingrid in more fashion-forward clothing? The characters keep saying that Janella’s character is a weirdo no one wants to hang out with, but nothing about her bearing and clothing reflects that.

A horror film works when it is grounded in reality. When it feels like it can actually happen. Seeing as the casting already made the film unrealistic, you would hope that at the very least, the logic behind the haunting would be sound. But, no.

The great evil of the house is supposedly a ghost but they suddenly becomes corporeal. And then, just to add the implausibility of it all, they are revealed to be a practitioner of the dark arts. Nothing leading to that reveal will prepare you for it, and it feels like it was only included to make it logical for said evil to be as powerful as they are.

Oh, and let’s not forget the opening scene that has no connection at all to the rest of the film: a kid and his mother finds themselves stranded by the retreat house, only to be killed by dark forces. And it is never mentioned in the film again!

Don’t even get me started on the out-of-the-blue scare that was supposed to establish Ella’s ability to see dead people. Because it’s such a perfect set-up to actually head into the scares, but is wasted when the movie goes back to setting up the unnecessary love triangle.

Nothing in this movie makes sense.

Haunted Mansion offers nothing more than cheap scares and shock factor. If you’re looking for something with more substance… Look elsewhere.

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Movie: Buy Now, Die Later

"Buy Now, Die Later"

BUY NOW, DIE LATER is a compendium of five interconnected stories, each one representing one of the five senses. The stories featuring ODIE, ATO, CHLOE, PIPPA and MAITA will remind us that every bargain comes with a price.

I really wanted to like this film. Especially because out of the three films I’ve seen so far off this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival entries, this has been the best. But being better than My Bebe Love or Haunted Mansion isn’t really something to be proud of.

Buy Now, Die Later suffers from putting style over substance. The film is, for the most part, beautifully lit and shot. There was obvious thought put into lighting the scenes, in the camera’s movements, and in blocking the scenes. But the same thought wasn’t given into casting two of the main leads, because I completely do not understand why the producers of this film thought Alex Gonzaga and Vhong Navarro were right for the roles they played here.

Let’s start with Vhong. The actor’s swagger did not fit the underdog character he was meant to portray here. Based completely off the events and the dialogue, you’re supposed to feel that the character is meant to be looking to escape the shadow cast by a too famous father. Unfortunately, Vhong’s portrayal only made him out to be a fame-hungry bottom-feeder who wants the easiest way to get into the spotlight. Which would’ve been a fine character on its own, if it weren’t for the fact that this doesn’t fit his character’s actions and dialogue in the second half of the film.

And then there’s Alex. I don’t know if it was a conscious effort on her part to emulate the speaking and movement of certain local celebrities, but it was a little too over the top for me. It certainly didn’t help that she would jump from one emotion to the next without any nuance, making her character feel like she’s suffering from a psychological disorder.

Which makes me feel bad for the rest of the cast, Lotlot de Leon and TJ Trinidad most notably. You can see that these two made an effort to make their characters breathe and be real. I actually feel especially sorry for TJ Trinidad because the director or the producer subjected him to wearing an awful mask that was completely unnecessary. It’s like they didn’t trust that he could bring the malevolence needed to make his character work, when his character was actually already scary enough–until the mask appeared and made his character look like a joke.

Story-wise, I must commend the film for trying a different kind of story-telling from what the masses are used to. Especially during the Metro Manila Film Festival season. But I think they bit off more than they can chew with this one. Especially when it comes to logic and continuity. The biggest flaw in the story-telling comes near the end of the story when Lotlot’s character is seduced by the promise of youth–during the time when she’s worried about her daughter’s safety. It should make sense, but the dialogue given her does not–and neither do the scenes that follow after she succumbs to the devil’s bargain.

Then there’s the foreshadowing of how the devil’s items work; they used three characters to underline the fact that the magic of the items don’t affect those who have been cursed. Except one of the three characters hasn’t even been cursed yet. That’s a problem someone in editing, or the writer himself, should have been on the look out for.

And speaking of editing– I don’t know who was in charge of trimming down the movie, but the latter half of Buy Now, Die Later suffered from a lot of cuts that didn’t make sense–leaving characters finishing lines of dialogue that viewers never saw start in the first place.

Don’t even get me started on the garish music video that jolts viewers into the second story.

So would I recommend this movie to anyone? I want to say yes, if only for Lotlot de Leon and TJ Trinidad–but Buy Now, Die Later is really only entertaining two-fifths of the time, so I would say no. If you want to support Quantum Films so they could make more films, watch Walang Forever instead.