Kuwaresma is directed by Erik Matti and stars John Arcilla and Sharon Cuneta
Coming off the high of Mother’s Day, Kuwaresma opened up in hundreds of theaters across the country on May 15. Bagging on big names like director Erik Matti (Honor Thy Father, BuyBust) and actors John Arcilla (Heneral Luna, Birdshot) and Sharon Cuneta (Caregiver, Crying Ladies), the horror film leveraged on one message: How far a mother would push herself for the love of her children.
Did the film succeed? Were we wowed out of our seats? Are we tasting that much-needed upgrade in Filipino horror that we’ve been hungry and salivating for?
Kuwaresma first introduces us to Luis Fajardo (Kent Gonzales), a college student in Lucena. He gets a call one night, which he ignores in favor of some bedroom fun. When he wakes up the morning, he finds his sister, Manuela (Pam Gonzales), in his dorm’s lobby. She questions why he didn’t answer her call and why he left her back home in Baguio.
But then the phone rings again and it’s Luis’ father, Arturo (Arcilla). He then delivers, in a creepy and almost devoid-of-feeling way, that Manuela has passed away. Chucking it up to his sister making herself felt one more time, Luis goes home to his distraught mother, Rebecca (Cuneta), and cold father for the burial.
When Luis tries to talk about Manuela and prod about her sudden death, his parents remain tight-lipped. They won’t talk about her; Arturo does so only in conversations to say his daughter was a girl and therefore essentially weak. It’s this inherent and gender-decided weakness, apparently, that caused her death.
As the days move on to nights, Luis remains haunted by Manuela. Her soul is clearly in unrest, but why?
The story of Kuwaresma isn’t exactly novel anymore because—surprise/spoiler—there’s a demon that resides in their family home. It’s this demon that’s been causing so much conflict in the lives of the Fajardos; it’s why Arturo’s been such a little devil. This said, the writers did attempt to tie in some unique subplots, including a dive into sexuality, sexual orientation and abuse. But as subplots, these themes didn’t necessarily get the production (and delicate attention) they deserve.
But since we’re talking about production, this is where—as a whole—Kuwaresma shines. The cinematography, in all its dreary and gray glory, works well to set the tone of the film. And as Matti told us before the screen dimly lit up, the score was something to marvel at on its own. It isn’t your usual build-up music; you’ll hear sounds you never had before. Not to mention the special effects and prosthetics didn’t have us sarcastically gagging, either.
It might go without saying at this point, but Arcilla embodied his character and delivered in all the ways we’ve come to expect of him. He was believable as the antagonist; I hated him—truly hated him—within thirty minutes of the film. Cuneta, meanwhile, didn’t let up on her performance either. She was the timid mother, doting and silent and frustratingly come-what-may, up until she had no choice but to step up and stand her ground. And the Gonzales siblings, in their first foray into entertainment, prove they deserved their time on screen.
But we go back to the questions: Did Kuwaresma wow us? Were we gripping our arm rests and shutting our eyes in sheer terror? Perhaps not; not during the film’s entirety, anyway. Like with most horror movies, there is time to breathe between the jump scares, curveballs, creepy young girls and demonic spirits. Whether or not this is a good thing depends entirely on you.
Kuwaresma might just be the newest standard in Filipino horror. Catch it in theaters showing nationwide.
Art Alexandra Lara