Julia Barretto, Xian Lim team up in Brillante Mendoza horror flick

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Feb 10 2022 01:35 PM | Updated as of Feb 10 2022 07:31 PM

Xian Lim and Julia Barretto play husband and wife in Brillante Mendoza's horror film 'Bahay na Pula.' Handout
Xian Lim and Julia Barretto play husband and wife in Brillante Mendoza's horror film 'Bahay na Pula.' Handout

MANILA -- Throughout her career, actress Julia Barretto has vowed not to do a horror film especially after she watched the 2008 supernatural flick, “Shutter.”

“Ganu’n ako matatakutin,” Barretto told ABS-CBN News. “But God really wants to make you do things you won’t expect to do. He put me in a situation where I couldn’t say no to Direk Brillante [Mendoza] with this horror film, ‘Bahay na Pula.’ But I’m happy I did this.”

“Shutter” is Barretto’s favorite horror film. “There are some films with plot twists and revelations that you never see coming,” she said. “I think that really scared me and started my fear in horror.”

Barretto honestly disclosed she is really scared of horror flicks. “The only thing that made me say yes to ‘Bahay na Pula’ was Direk Brillante,” she admitted. “He won in international festivals. ‘Bahay na Pula’ has a beautiful story and the history injected into the plot.”

For the first time, Barretto gets paired with Xian Lim, who plays her husband in the film, which marks the return to the horror genre of the award-winning director.

Completing the cast is Marco Gumabao as Barretto’s erstwhile boyfriend, who now works with the town mayor.

“The day before pitching, they told me Direk Brillante wanted to pitch a project to me,” she recalled. “I didn’t know the story yet. Zero clue, but it was a yes right away for me. I knew that right there and then.”

Just getting out of her comfort zone and doing a horror film was the biggest challenge for Barretto.

“It was my first horror film,” she said. “At the end of the day, it was trusting your director and trusting yourself. That’s the biggest factor why we did what we were supposed to do. It was all about growing, learning, trusting and believing.

“It was really a fun time shooting and I was grateful for the friendships we were able to form, especially with the production and Direk Brillante. He was somebody we were able to hang out with even after shooting.”

Barreto was really thankful that she was given a chance to work with Mendoza. “The experience of your director giving you so much freedom and trust in the creative process, that was such a big factor and a very challenging thing as an actor,” she explained.

“Very freeing, as well. Again, that has changed my life as an actor. I hope to make more films with Direk Brillante.”

The whole time she was in Pola, Mindoro for the lockdown location of their shoot for “Bahay na Pula,” Barretto carried a rosary with her while they were filming.

“It helps so much when you’re filming in a location that really scares you,” she disclosed. “The moment I stepped into Bahay na Pula, I readily had goose bumps. The creepiness was there. The fear was always inside of you. Hindi mawawala.”

Their after-filming bonding was important to the cast and worked to everyone’s advantage, especially when they got to talk to their director.

“We all found joy having good conversations,” Barretto said. “That’s something I saw that’s common in all four of us, including direk. I really cherished those after-shoot conversations with everybody. There is always something to pick up from each other.

“There was no choice but to see each other and chat. Not that it was a bad thing. We were all in one vicinity and there was a common area for everybody. It was what really brought everybody close and formed nice relationship and friendship.”

Similarly for Lim, he cherished how they would stay up late after a long-day shoot just talking to each other.

“We would still stay up late until 1 a.m. even if we knew we had to wake up at 6 a.m. for the shoot the following day,” Lim shared. “Hindi selfish si Direk to tell us about his experiences.

“Even Julia and Marco, no holds-barred ang kwento nila. Pretty much, nag-jibe kami doon. That time, we knew we would miss our bonding and kwentuhan when we wrap up the film.

“For sure after the shoot, we would go our separate lives. Ano kaya ang pwede naming gawin? Direk simply told us, ‘Let us enjoy each and every moment that we have’.”

Working with Mendoza was so inspiring for Lim. “The way he motivated his staff and the people around him, he inspired everybody,” Lim said. “He’s the type of director whom you would listen to when he started talking.

“He didn’t beat around the bush. His filmmaking style is really unique and something different. In his filmmaking process, we learned so much. Our director made us realize it’s okay to have changes along the way.

“The script was supposed to be set in stone. But if you see available resources around you, why not use it? We had an outline where we wanted to go in the film. But it changed constantly. That was very exciting and that was something to look forward to.”

Lim likes to process how they completed the film. “Every single day was memorable, because we didn’t know what to expect,” he shared. “The style of Direk Brillante and the liberty he gave us were different.

“Coming up with our own dialogue and the collaborative process between the artists and the filmmaker. Having that sense of mystery while doing this film.”

'Most of Mendoza’s actors in other film projects gave their 100 percent or even 150 percent when working with him.

“All he was asking for from all of us, was only 2 percent,” Lim shared. “That needed to be true and in the moment. We didn’t need to give anything else.

“He told the three of us: ‘Wala kayong gagawing mali dito. Feel free to explore and do anything you want. Ang mali lang is if you’re not feeling it and if you go against the direction.’

“That was the most memorable to me. Just having a sense of wonder and mystery. Not knowing what would happen next. Direk’s filmmaking style the way he attacked the material of ‘Bahay na Pula’ was very admirable.”

'Having the rapport with Barretto, his first-time leading lady, was important to Lim once they started working together.

“Direk Brillante’s material, it would have been a different chemistry if all of us knew each other even before,” Lim said. “It would have been so much different. It was my first time to work with them in one film.

“The script or the treatment that we had required bringing yourself and your personal experiences to the table.”

Expectedly, the stars respected each other’s personal lives and hardly delved on their romances and partners. “We didn’t feel the need to talk about that aspect of our lives,” Barretto reasoned out.

Lim added: “We acknowledged there are relationships. We didn’t explore each other’s personal lives. We pretty much enjoyed each other’s company. That was enough.”

Lim is a big fan of the horror genre. His favorite among all that he watched in the past was “Hereditary” (2018), directed by Ali Aster. “I’m just a sucker for horror films that have their own twist to it,” he admitted. “I love cult-related movies.”

Meanwhile, Gumabao recalled watching the Japanese version of “The Grudge” (2002), an “unforgettable” horror film for him. “Three days akong tumabi kay Michelle [his older sister] dahil hindi ako makatulog,” he smilingly said.

Working on Mendoza’s “Bahay na Pula” was totally intimidating for Gumabao. “It was my first time working without a script,” he said. “I didn’t know what to except. I didn’t even know if I was doing the right thing.

“The three of us, we tasted the fear of not having a script and just trusted Direk Brillante. The collaboration of this project we were doing, we were given the freedom to do what we think the character would do.

“Feeling mo, you are partly a director also because your director gave you the freedom to react for a certain scene.”

The first time Gumabao stepped inside Bahay na Pula, he instantly felt there was something sinister. “Was it a spirit? There was one scene that was a hair-raising moment for me when we shot in the basement. I could really sense it. But there were a lot of us in the house, hindi ako natakot.”

Gumabao attested it was hard to shoot a horror film all the way in Mindoro. “While shooting, all the effects were not yet there. Ano man ang hugot mo for that particular scene, that’s what’s hard.

“I’m not used to making a horror film. This is just my second, but the first one to be shown [starting February 25].