Kakabakaba ba siya? Santos-Concio in Mikhail Red's Eerie
Culture Movies

How to write a horror movie—when you haven't done one

The scriptwriter of Eerie—the big Charo movie of the year premiering in Singapore this December—is a self-confessed horror geek. Here, she retraces the steps she and her collaborators took to come up with something that hopefully balances the scares with a story well-told. 
Mariah Reodica | Nov 01 2018

Mikhail Red and I began with a simple question: what do we fear? Personally, many of my favorite horror films sharply address specific terrors or anxieties. I enjoy my fair share of poltergeists, chestbursters, and bad omens, but the film doesn’t have to be blatant. Take Rosemary’s Baby (1968)—which is what happens when you find out that everything that you were paranoid about turns out to be true, and worse than you imagined. I’ve seen the original Dawn of the Dead (1978) multiple times because I feel like a zombie when I’m in a mall, too. Even the most fantastic of fears are rooted in real human impulses, which is why I’ve long held a fascination with how filmmakers explore them.

Alonzo in her first horror outing.

Eerie was a close collaboration with Mik (Neomanila, Birdshot) and his producer Micah Tadena, and it ended up quite differently from the original two-page storyline that we started with. We wanted to see what we could do with Asian horror in particular as a genre. We set it in 1999, when the government carried out its first execution after reinstating the death penalty. The film, in a nutshell, is this: a mysterious murder, a guidance counselor, and spooky kids—both alive and dead.

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I won’t give away too much, but at Eerie’s core is what happens when suppressed trauma and secrets surface, as they inevitably do when left unaddressed. An all-girl Catholic school in itself can be a microcosm of what happens when dogma and discipline indoctrinates people at a young age. You have children in a walled-off environment where morality is dictated by an authority that is absolute within its premises. How do we hold people accountable for what happens? What happens if we don’t? If we don’t face ourselves, then how do we sleep at night?

Those are the sort of questions that led the plot. While scares are fun to write, the story had to come first. To me, scares matter more when I’m invested in the well-being of a character.

As guidance counselor slash clairvoyant Pat Consolacion, Alonzo investigates a murder in a Catholic school where the only witness is the ghost of a suicide victim.

There’s an informal dichotomy of the kind of horror a movie utilizes: visceral and residual. The former focuses on outright scares—like jump scares, gruesome dismemberment, or shocking revelations. The latter is the kind that makes you sleep with the lights on. It’s the dread that lingers after the film, an anxiety that keeps you from looking in the rearview mirror on the drive home. Eerie tends to have a taste for the latter.

We spent a lot of time geeking out over films while developing the script. In terms of pacing, we took cues from some of our beloved slow burners such as The Witch (2015), Psycho (1960), and Ringu (1998). We took a look at the vengeful ghosts in The Shining (1980) and The Exorcist (1973). We also had a field day with religious iconography and cults in Suspiria (1977), Dogtooth (2009), and Itim (1976). It helped to draw inspiration from music that’s on the gloomy or atmospheric side. I was listening to the score of Blade Runner (1982), Brian Eno’s Apollo (1983), and The Boatman’s Call by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. We did our homework.

The actress took the film's challenging demands head on. 

We were also very fortunate to work with two very formidable actresses who gave depth to the characters beyond the script. Charo Santos-Concio donned the habit of the academy’s austere Mother Superior perfectly. To me, it’s a nice full circle considering that her first leading role was in one of my favorite horror movies, too.

As for Bea, the guidance counselor Pat Consolacion is her first role in a horror film. We admit there were sequences that were physically demanding, and she took it head on. She has a Lady Macbeth moment at some point; I’m personally looking forward to seeing her in more horror or thriller films in the future.

Santos-Concio donned the habit of the academy’s austere Mother Superior perfectly.

From the beginning, Eerie was written with a deafening silence in mind where a pause in a conversation can be pregnant with meaning, and the characters say a lot even when they don’t speak. It’s a tricky balance that isn’t up to the scriptwriters alone. We got to work with a fantastic cast and crew in a genre where timing is everything. For a horror geek like me, it was a treat to see Eerie through from the screenplay to the silver screen.

Eerie will have its world premiere at the Singapore International Film Festival this December. Its Philippine premiere is set in early 2019.