MANILA -- From the first frame, my attention was immediately caught by seeing Fox Network Group as the main producer of "Maledicto" (together with Cignal Entertainment and Unitel). Realizing that this is Fox's first locally-produced film, this fact heightened my eagerness and excitement for watching this new horror film, expecting a higher quality output than usual.
Fr. Xavi Lavezares (Tom Rodriguez) is an exorcist who trained in Rome. Being a medical doctor (a practicing psychiatrist) before going into priesthood, Fr. Xavi was eager to debunk cases of alleged demonic possessions as medical cases. However, his first major case which involved the nephew of the Cardinal did not go too well, which did not help Fr. Xavi's reputation as a brash young skeptical exorcist.
Agnes Villacorte (Miles Ocampo) was an outstanding student in St. Mary's Academy. However, she suddenly experienced an inexplicable personality breakdown, causing her to have violent outbursts against people around her. Sister Barbara Vergel de Dios (Jasmine Curtis Smith) sought the help of Fr. Xavi. At first, Fr. Xavi dismissed the case as induced by illegal drugs, but later factors would point him otherwise.
To be completely honest, this was just a film about a rather straightforward case of demonic possession, much like the classic one we saw as far back as "The Exorcist". The appearance and behavior of the possessed Agnes in the final showdown with Fr. Xavi mostly followed the "Exorcist" template. Only, there was a touch of Philippine folklore introduced, with the involvement of a mysterious cult led by Manang Sisa (Liza Lorena).
Another angle introduced by this film was the stand of the local Church authorities regarding these exorcism cases. There was the character of Cardinal Delfino (Eric Quizon) who sought for the "modernization" of the Church. He wanted to stop attributing so-called cases of possessions to the Devil, and instead explain them as psychiatric or drug-induced mania. This was an interesting twist to the usual supernatural narrative of these films.
There seemed to be an effort to lighten the horror by some unexpected comedy. Rodriguez's Fr. Xavi was an irreverent priest, cocky and assertive. He acted like one of those hotshot American crime show detectives -- drank cognac, smoked cigarettes, tactless of tongue. Ocampo's portrayal of Agnes was rather over-the-top, coming off as unintentionally funny than scary. Curtis-Smith was a perfect Sister Barbie personality-wise, but she looked unhealthy and gaunt here compared to her previous films.
The cinematography seemed to be using a hazy filter to add to the mystical atmosphere. In some scenes, the camera was focusing and defocusing on the characters while their conversations were going on. Special visual effects, like the floating of Agnes' body or the lengthening of her tongue, were cleanly executed for a local film.
There was actually a mid-credit extra scene which seemed to promise a sequel, making this film seem like the pilot episode of a TV series. I liked that final surprise.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."