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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jul 6, 2017

Ang Pagsanib Kay Leah De La Cruz Movie Review: Sorry, But We Didn't Get Scared At All!

WE REALLY enjoyed Katski Flores’ directorial debut, “Still Life”, which she herself wrote for the Cinemalaya in 2007. Glaiza de Castro was so good in the lead role of a young woman who does some time travel and meets the man, Ron Capinding, who’d eventually be her son. We felt that Glaiza should have won the best actress award for her performance in that film.

It took ten years before Katski got to direct her second film. In between, she did teleseryes for ABS-CBN like “Mana Po” and “Lumayo Ka Man Sa Akin”. Her last soap was “A Beautiful Affair”, which didn’t go the way the ABS-CBN bosses envisioned it, so she was replaced and was never made to helm a teleserye again. We don’t know why she chose a horror film like “Pagsanib” as her comeback vehicle as it’s hard to make a fright flick that really works. The story is written by Erik Matti (of “Seklusyon) and the script is by Charlene Esguerra.

The story centers on a policewoman who looks more like a supermodel, Ruth Liwanag (Sarah Lahbati). She moves to this small town called Dalisay trying to run away from the traumatic memory of something in her recent past that will only be revealed in the ending. She has just arrived in town when she sees a young woman, the eponymous Leah (Shy Carlos), jumping off the balcony of their house.

Despite the fall, Leah miraculously survives and she’s blamed for a violent attack on her longtime yaya, Rosario. Leah and Rosario both end up in the same hospital. But why did Leah try to kill Rosario? Is she possessed by an evil spirit?

Ruth gets involved and tries to uncover the mystery, which gets too complicated for its good and eventually gdets to involve the parish priest Father Lucas (Jim Paredes), a nun who is Leah’s guidance counselor with a deep dark secret (Angelina Canapi) and a nefarious cult in the late 80s where the perverse male leaders make their young female members their sex slaves.

That “Pagsanib” also comes from the fertile imagination of Erik Matti is easy to deduce since it has the same theme of his “Seklusyon”, with the devil playing on men’s weaknesses for them to do heinous, diabolical deeds that will make anyone cringe.

The main trouble with the movie is you don’t really get to relate or sympathize with any of the characters, some of whom we don’t really get to care for like Leah’s mother, Marite (Olive Nieto), who turns out to be a randy unfaithful wife cheating on her unsuspecting husband, Oscar (Michael Rivero, unrecognizable as he gained so much weight), and is even shown giving head to a security guard (Micah Munoz) who’s turned off by her aggressiveness. Then there’s Leah’s boyfriend, Gabriel (Julian Trono), who also doesn’t get our sympathy as he behaves like an irritating retardate who’s always sleeping or needlessly hugging Ruth. The script also raises a lot of questions that are left unanswered. Example: how can a woman raised in a cult suddenly become a nun and a guidance counselor, which needs a lot of training and preparation, in so short a time? And that climax in the forest at the dead of night is staged in a very messy manner.

Sarah Lahbati does pretty well in the lead role, consistently stoic and courageous all throughout but haunted by her own demons that make her cut her own thighs and belly with a knife. You’d believe that even the evil spirit who lurks around will be afraid of her because she’s so fearless. In the dark library sequence where the spook appears and she pursues it, it’s even the ghost who seem to get scared and tries to run away from her because of her fierce no-nonsense aura.

And she’s so beautiful on screen. We’ve rooted for her even when she was just a neophyte in Starstruck. Maybe she would have been a bigger star now had she not rebelled and left GMA as they were on the verge of building her up then to full stardom. But we believe she can still catch up because she’s really stunning on screen and can really act.

Nothing much is required from Shy Carlos at the start, but when she finally manifests the signs that she’s indeed possessed, she gets convincingly transformed into an evil entity worthy of being the film’s title-roler.

Katski works really hard in creating a creepy and ominous atmosphere of doom throughout the movie. Most scenes are shot in the dark, but sometimes, her techniques get repetitive, like the frequent flickering of the lights and the pervasive whispering voices we hear that utter gibberish for added fright factor. But the thing is, we don’t get really scared at all.

As someone behind said as we were going out of the theatre: “Hindi naman ako natakot.” Maybe she should have put some jump scare scenes, no matter how cheap they are, as local viewers who go for the horror genre just loved being jolted out of their seats.