TL;DR: Despite being another showcase for Mikhail Red’s brand of technically accomplished genre filmmaking packed with sociopolitical commentary, Eerie is dampened by plot issues & unoriginal scares.
In his previous films, Mikhail Red crafted sharp, stylish thrillers probing the corrupt institutions that allowed . & poverty to flourish in the Philippines through the eyes of people trying to survive these harsh conditions. Eerie marks a huge departure for him, because this would be his first horror film & his first film for a mainstream studio. Making a jump from the independent scene to a massive studio like ABS-CBN Films has always been tricky, but the film retains enough trademarks from his past work that suggest we’re not watching a watered down version for a wider audience.
It even has the bones for what could’ve been straightforward mystery. Set during 1995, one of the students for the Sta. Lucia Academy for Girls, a highly prestigious Catholic school for women, is found dead under inexplicable circumstances. Guidance counselor Patricia (Bea Alonzo) is doing her best to take care of the students’ mental & emotional state after the incident; especially Joy (Gabby Padilla), who now has survivor’s guilt that worsens her suicidal tendencies.
Instead of trying to figure out what caused her death, school principal Sister Alice enforces stricter rules on the campus & insists on returning to their everyday routine of teaching & prayer, since she believes this would be best for the students & the school’s reputation. Undeterred by Sister Alice’s orders, she decides to investigate the case on her own alongside an investigator played by Jake Cuenca. She does hold a secret that will be helpful to her quest: she has clairvoyant powers that allow her to see & communicate with the dead. She happens upon Eri, the ghost of a student whose death decades ago seems to involve Mother Alice & may be the key to unlocking the school’s dark secrets.
The journey to get there is rough though. Watching Patricia piece the mystery together is unengaging because she’s a passive presence in her own investigation. Most of the clues are handed down to her, and if she does find a significant detail, it doesn’t give her & the audience a satisfying eureka moment that connects everything together. It doesn’t help that the characters are bland & uninteresting, mainly used as a vessel for the film’s themes.
It’s disappointing, since the film contains his penchant for sociopolitical commentary. What unfolds is a tragic story of vulnerable people forced to follow blindly to their doom by the same Filipino institutions that’s supposed to protect them, & the nearly futile attempts by those brave enough to fight back; even if the fragile, corrupt nature of these institutions mean they can be exploited for personal gain.
The cast does try to muster up all the gravitas they have to flesh out their roles. Charo Santos reveals the darker side of the maternal authority she’s shown as the host of the long-running anthology series Maalaala Mo Kaya (Memories). Even in embodying Patricia’s relentless drive for the truth, Bea Alonzo plays up her exhaustion & terror. When she’s faced with the evil lurking in the campus, she tries to muster up all the energy to express her immediate dread, but she’s clearly fatigued & overwhelmed by her situation. Jake Cuenca doesn’t get to the much in his role, but Gabby Padilla does. She ends up being the heart of the film – leading to the most touching ending Red has done so far – with her sympathetic portrayal of a troubled woman who only wants someone to be there for her.
When Patricia does go on her secret trips to the supernatural, it doesn’t push its already creepy setting to weirder, newer places the way its opening credits seem to imply. It doesn’t mean it’s a complete disappintment though. While the film offers clichéd, derivative setpieces that heavily rely on pulling you in before shocking you with a jump scare – which can get repetitive – it is deftly executed with a steady, patient camera that slowly tracks its characters to horrors beyond our reality. Even the quality of the jump scares swing between lazy & playful.
Taken as a whole, this is another showcase for Red’s nimble, precise genre filmmaking. The whole film is stylish, yet presented without pizzazz. With the help of cinematographer Mycko David, it has a somber atmosphere bathe in shadows & darker hues that emphasize how inescapable the gloom surrounding the campus. It’s a technically accomplished film, but its plot issues & unoriginal setpieces weaken what could’ve been a compelling film.