Among horror films, one of the more familiar sub-genres are those dealing with demonic possessions and exorcisms. For this year alone, there had already been two Filipino horror films which dealt with this very subject matter -- Mark Meily's "Maledicto" in April and Eric Matti's "Kuwaresma" in May.
For the third month in a row, yet another Filipino film opens in theaters again -- Derick Cabrido's "Clarita."
Unlike the other two preceding films, "Clarita" was actually based on a true story that happened in Manila in 1953. Clarita Villanueva, a young woman arrested for vagrancy, claimed that she was being tormented by unseen demons.
After the uncanny deaths of doctors assigned to her case, she was referred to a pair of exorcist priests -- Fr. Salvador, the grizzled senior, and Fr. Benedicto, the skeptical upstart -- to see if they can help rid Clarita of the rabid evil within her.
Jodi Sta. Maria will definitely be in contention for best actress come awards season next year. The role of Clarita certainly wrung extremes of acting out of her -- from unbearable melancholy to gut-wrenching pain, from pathological fear to unspeakable wrath -- and she gave it her all. There was a searing intensity in her portrayal of Clarita which we had never seen her do in all her telenovelas before.
She might be under layers of facial prosthetics at certain scenes, but those flashing eyes of hers convey all sorts of ghastly emotions. The physical demands of this role on her was immense with all the arching, crawling, and levitating Clarita had to do under demonic influence. Sta. Maria also had to be some sort of a linguist, too, as possessed Clarita had to growl out lengthy phrases in Latin, German, and French.
Stage and screen veteran actor Ricky Davao played Fr. Salvador with world-weary wisdom, with just a tinge of human pride. Arron Villaflor played Fr. Benedicto in the same dry manner how he played his character Joven in "Heneral Luna" and "Goyo." He seemed to still be underplaying even when the scene required some punch. Alyssa Muhlach held her own as persistent pioneering photo-journalist Emilia Henson, who was also carrying her own personal baggage in her crusade to cover Clarita's case.
In smaller roles were Nonie Buencamino as Mayor Arsenio Lacson of Manila, Romnick Sarmenta as the warden of the prison where Clarita was being held, Yayo Aguila as Clarita's ill-fated traditional healer mother Demetria, Tony Mabesa as the Archbishop who asked Salvador and Benedicto to accept Clarita's case, Angeli Bayani as a fellow inmate who dared pick a fight with Clarita, Che Ramos as the callous doctor who diagnosed Clarita's case as multiple personality disorder, and Bibeth Orteza as Clarita's landlady in the city.
The production design of the 1950s setting was commendable with the very careful selection of props, locations, costumes, and hairstyle. The camera worked very well with the dim lighting in the dark scenes, no need to strain to see what was going on. There were uniquely choice camera angles to make Clarita's demonic antics even more scary, even if she was merely a peripheral image. The prosthetics and visual effects were all of top-notch quality for a Filipino horror film. There were also beautiful transitions as present events led to flashbacks of the past.
It is true that one may feel that this was one more exorcism film too many this year. We already saw floating bodies and lengthening tongue done well in "Maledicto," and an intensely heart-stopping casting of demon scene in "Kuwaresma."
However, one cannot deny that "Clarita" still managed to trump them both with its excellent production values, the powerful acting performance by Sta. Maria and the eloquent storytelling by Cabrido.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."