‘Kuwaresma’ review: Clever as the devil and twice as pretty
Think of Erik Matti’s Kuwaresma as a well-dressed woman you chance upon at a fancy party.
She’s dressed to the nines, with each piece of clothing probably costing an arm and a leg. She’s out to astound, which makes you want to talk to her, uncover what mysteries lie beneath all the elegance. After a few hours of intense conversation, one thing is for sure: She’s clever as the devil, twice as pretty, and more than just a little bit unhinged.
She’s definitely got you hooked.
Kuwaresma is a film that disfavors shortcuts.
Think about it. The story of a young man (Kent Gonzalez) who returns home to his stern father (John Arcilla) and submissive mother (Sharon Cuneta) after his twin sister dies is not one that begs to be set several decades earlier. However, Matti and screenwriter Katski Flores pushes for the '80s, infusing the story with an opportunity for not just an eerily familiar yet time-trapped look but also thematic layers. Clearly, the film isn’t just gunning for cheap scares and convenient shock tactics. The film just pleads to linger more than the dime-a-dozen horror flick.
Kuwaresma echoes Mike de Leon’s Kisapmata in its depiction of the lopsided family unit, with the overbearingly dominant patriarch and the suspiciously too-quiet matriarch.
It wants this somewhat mundane and commonplace but ominously bizarre domestic setup to take prominence in delivering tension and suspense. While the film has ingeniously conceived scares peppered in the film, it works best when it twists what is supposed to be normal and skews what is supposed to be safe and comfortable. The film has quite a distorted mood rhythm. It is slow and somber but when it becomes crazy, it boldly bulldozes all the grace and restraint it plays around with to great effect.
By the time it ends, it bewilders more than it frightens, truly digging deeper than most films that endeavor to put to the fore the dread of familial dysfunction.
What is most apparent with Kuwaresma than its divisive discourse on varying topics ranging from gender, politics, religion and basic morality is how handsomely crafted it is.
Neil Bion, who previously lensed the chaos that is the core of Matti’s BuyBust, reveals an impressive range by having his camera gracefully wafting through the shadowy corridors of a rustic house. The effect is astonishing in the sense that the film has all the atmosphere it needs to execute its lofty endeavor of mining grotesquerie out of repressed secrets and other skeletons in the closet.
Then there is the haunting sound design that is aptly oppressive, making each and every perfectly curated frame and scene suspect.
The performances are mostly excellent.
Cuneta perfectly blends into the background up until her character is required to take control. Kent Gonzalez is a fine protagonist, exuding all the confusion, resentment and ire that the film conjures out of thin yet sinister air. It is Arcilla, however, that is the real showstopper here.
He takes his cue from Vic Silayan’s performance in Kisapmata, maximizing the simmering and seething hate and bigotry that consumes his character to add to the horror.
Not an easy film
Kuwaresma isn’t an easy film.
It sends a myriad of messages, some of which may feel abhorrent depending mainly on perspective. This is all good. A fine horror film should never feel easy. It should disrupt and put the audience in a position of discomfort. It shouldn’t be forgettable.
Matti’s film is surely unforgettable. It sticks. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.