Metro Manila Film Festival 2023: Messed up and loving it

Metro Manila Film Festival 2023: Messed up and loving it

Movie Review
Directed by King Palisoc
MTRCB Rating: R-13

ONE can make an effective, if lazy horror flick with several jump scares lined up like ducks at a shoot. However, truly masterful works of horror exist to subvert ideas about things we love and depend on. Kampon uses a combination of gore, jump scares, and queasy dread for a story that sits uncomfortably in the mind long after the movie has ended.

There are few things more sacred to the Filipino than family, and Kampon raises a menacing eyebrow to this ideal. Ex-cop Clark (played by Derek Ramsay, perhaps a nod to his turn as a cop in anti-piracy ads) and his wife Eileen (played by Beauty Gonzales) long for a child but are unable to conceive. Pressure and passive-aggressive praise from friends and family don’t help the situation, and Eileen slides further into a slump. One night, a child named Jade (Erin Espiritu) appears at their doorstep, claiming to be Clark’s long-lost daughter. Both reluctantly take in the child, but Eileen gradually begins to warm to her, while a guilty Clark’s resentment for this girl festers every day. The girl, meanwhile, shows a measure of control over dark forces, and strange things begin to happen in their house.

(Spoilers ahead!)

This film is messed up, and we mean that in the best way possible. Ms. Gonzales, known for her telenovela roles, turns out to be an effective ingenue. We dread along with her as the child slowly addles this mother figure, and when revenants summoned by the child carry her off to a terrible fate, she does so in a lovely white dress that emphasizes her role in all of this as an unwilling pawn. Mr. Ramsay plays his character well, which means that we sat on the fence whether to love him or hate him. On one hand, he effectively plays the role of a protective father figure, but then, the things he’s protecting his family from are all mostly his fault. What these say about Filipino parental figures is up to your interpretation.

As for the child actor, Ms. Espiritu, well: she has the air of a young Anne Curtis (now a big star), and shows amazing restraint and skill in a demanding role. The thing is though, despite the terrible things we see her do in the film, the young girl registers on the screen as an object of sympathy still. Together with an intelligently written script, the three twist the image of home and family, and one leaves the theater with some revulsion.

Horror isn’t horror without special effects, and there is some relief in that the film employs elegant restraint in their use. Sure, there’s gore and guts and twisting necks, but the camera lingers on them for seconds only, respecting the audience to piece the rest with their own imaginations, leading to true horror. Several times during the film, this writer found himself holding up a hand to block the screen: both to shield the eyes from what comes next, but also an entreaty for the horrors to stop — therefore making this film a true terror. Even the “zombies” in the film have a calm, if unconvincing, serenity and dignity to them, leading one to actually sympathize with them. This would have been a stumbling block in another film, but it works in Kampon.

The film might usher in a new era of horror in this country, and help sweep away some of the schlock and unintentional comedy that marks many of our horror films. We invite everyone to watch this to see the beginning of what could be a horror renaissance.  — Joseph L. Garcia