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By Heinrich Domingo

Seklusyon begins with an interesting story. It is set in the 1940s, with religion and mysticism luring viewers to dip into its narrative. But as it progresses, this inviting story turns into a murky narrative that engulfs the viewers to a mar of confusion and disappointment. It is a story coming in so strong but failing to land with a solid end.

A group of deacons is about to be ordained as priests of the Catholic Church. All were sent to a secluded area to deliver them from the temptations of the devil. Little do they know that the devil creeps onto them when a child healer and her guardian nun join in their seclusion.

In 2015, Erik Matti’s Honor Thy Father became a needle that popped the ballooning problem of the former Metro Manila Film Fest (MMFF) organization. Its exclusion from the best film competition prompted filmmakers, politicians, and movie enthusiasts to call for the festival’s revamp. HTF deserves the stir it has made. It has a clear story, beautiful cinematography, and laudable cast. This leaves Matti’s entry this year with a lot of room to fill in.

Seklusyon’s beginning is superb. The setting is unknown yet familiar, characters mysterious but interesting, and the story puzzling but enthralling. The narrative was unfolded through the beautiful cinematography and production design. The color grading and the well-thought shots work together to tell an imaginative story. Costumes and make-up jibe with the era depicted. There is no better way of mystifying a Tagalog barrio and a 1940s Catholic Church than what Seklusyon showed. As a result, one would instantly get lost in the web of details continuously built up by the story.

To follow the journey of the characters is to enter a surreal world. There is no clear definition where reality or fantasy divides. And Matti’s decision not to spoon-feed his viewers helps sustain this vibe. Moreover, despite the questionable casting choice, characters of the story are easy to understand. Their goals are clear and their personalities constant.

One may call to mind Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak while watching the film. Both are set in the past. Both have the chilling and riveting feel to them. Both include ghosts or devils to symbolize the character’s stories and predicaments. Laudably, Erik Matti heavily used metaphors to tell Seklusyon’s plot.

All is well until the climax of the story is reached. Despite the creative metaphors, details carefully narrated in the first two acts are suddenly dropped. Sub-stories told in the early parts are nowhere to be found in the end. Why was the story so suspicious with the nun? Who really is Anghela? Why were the stories of four deacons told then suddenly left unanswered? The audience was left with more questions than answers. Until the end, the audience was waiting for a grand narrative to be unfolded.

In all fairness, Seklusyon is an alternative to the already formulaic horror films in the country. It reminds the Filipino audience that a horror film can stand alone without being comedic, without casting a popular teenage love team, without reaching tens of episodes. Through visual images alone, a horror narrative can be told –  simultaneously entertaining the crowd while making them think.

4 stars