There is no denying that Katski Flores' Ang Pagsanib kay Leah dela Cruz works hard for its horror.
It is a slow burner, a film that could have easily succumbed to the conveniences of noise and jump scares to create artificial and erstwhile terror but instead persisted in sustaining a palpable ominousness almost throughout the entire feature.
Flores sets everything up very neatly.
She introduces her protagonist Ruth (Sarah Lahbati), a cop with observable moral baggage, through fragmented flashbacks that echo some trauma that will shape her new life in the sleepy town where she decides to rest and recover. The town's seemingly innocuous residents are all huddled inside a church, all intently listening as their parish priest (Jim Paredes) talks about the secret nature of evil. Leah (Shy Carlos), who starts out already in the middle of some mysterious demonic possession, is first seen in devious contemplation on a balcony while her nanny checks on her.
All of the characters finally meet when a crime has been supposedly committed, forcing Ruth to break her reclusion and get herself deep within an investigation of the sordid lives of the town's twisted faithful.
Moods and atmosphere
Ang Pagsanib kay Leah dela Cruz is most successful when it is all about moods and atmosphere.
Lahbati mostly succeeds in portraying a woman who is constantly bothered by a painful past. It is Carlos however who works the hardest, switching from teenage sweetheart to murderous monster in a matter of seconds. There is not a single performance that is off-key here, with everyone dutifully preserving that very fragile anguished calm that the film feeds on to deliver its scares.
Flores consistently conjures a certain disquiet out of what are essentially ordinary aspects of little town life. She maximizes religious imagery to enunciate her film's precious unease.
Everything mostly works except that the film does not seem to know when and where it needs to let go of imposing its mystery. The film keeps laboring on even when everything is already illogical, impractical, and unentertaining.
Ang Pagsanib kay Leah dela Cruz is far from being a perfect film but its merits definitely outweigh its failures. – 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.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.