As far as Filipino horror goes, I believe that it is slowly but surely catching up with its Hollywood counterparts quality-wise. I believe that Filipino films involving the supernatural has a certain flair that can capture the international market should it be given the proper chance and exposure. And Star Cinema’s The Healing is among the exemplary products that could go the extra mile.
In the tradition of his horror masterpiece Feng Shui in 2004 (which I think is one of the best, if not the best Filipino horror movie ever), director Chito Rono returns with The Healing, which tackles yet another part of the Filipino culture — faith healing. In the film, multi-awarded movie and television actress (and now Batangas Governor) Vilma Santos stars as Seth, a woman who takes her father to a faith healer to help cure his deteriorating condition. When Seth’s father makes a miraculous recovery, her neighbors — whose ailments range from skin diseases to tumors, ask her to take them to the healer. She capitulates but when they arrive, they learn that the healer named Manang Elsa is sick and is wary of accepting ‘patients’. After much convincing, Manang Elsa agrees to heal the group, as well as Cookie (Kim Chiu), the daughter of Seth’s estranged husband with his second wife. All of the patients appear to recover from their illnesses but their relief is short lived as they start dying one by one in mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile, Seth is haunted by her friends’ dopplegangers who appear to her moments before they die.
The Healing was graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board of the Philippines and was the first film allowed to be shown in both Rated 18 and PG 13 versions. This is a good thing because this enables it to be shown in more cinemas and viewed by a wider range of audience. I originally wanted to see the directors’ cut but was only able to see the PG 13 version. Still, it was good by its standards.
The Healing is a well crafted movie that has a very solid foundation — a strong plot that sets the direction of the movie, a lot of blood and gore, great effects (mostly in CGI) — not perfect or seamless but good enough to get the message across, and a superlative cast. It is also quite organized and is divided into chapters — a technique done quite subtly. Audiences would notice that during the first part, everything is in blue — the costumes, the set, perhaps to symbolize peace and healing — during the middle part for the main bulk of the story, they mostly wore red, perhaps to symbolize blood and danger — towards the end, when they were learning about the healing and reaching the climax, they were all in yellow — perhaps to symbolize hope and rebirth? No matter, it was a brilliant way to help set the mood for the scenes.
The Healing does not question whether or not faith actually heals illnesses, which has religious implications and would result in much debate in a mostly Catholic country like the Philippines. Rather, it took the high road and used the healing aspect as a means to an end — using an anomaly in the healing process as the reason behind the deaths of the last patients to be healed. Like Feng Shui, The Healing has a pattern that Seth needed to solve in order to save her friends and neighbors from their grisly deaths at the hands of their dopplegangers.
The script was also smartly written, injecting witty comments and moments of humor to break the seriousness of the plot. Acting wise, everybody pulled their weight and provided strong support to Santos, who was the main star of the film after all. What’s good about the movie was not just the horror aspect but the dramatic side as well. Moments of conflict were fleshed out by Santos’s excellent acting, quite different from regular dramatic fare. Kim Chiu, who usually plays goody two and cutsey roles was a revelation in this movie. She has a menacing side to her acting, it turns out. There were also several great scenes, and my favorite is perhaps the most horrific one that involves a child — that’s all I’m going to say without spoiling you.
My only complaint perhaps, was that it took too many killings before the group finally took any positive action to learn what was causing the problem –that and some minor inconsistencies in some sequences. Apart from it, I was quite satisfied with the overall turnout.
All in all, The Healing is one of the better horrors out there, and I am not just limiting this praise to the local industry. It was the type of horror suspense that was backed by quality in all aspects of the movie, from the casting, to the set, to the writing to the editing. It did not rely merely on the big name stars in its roster, or the reputation of its director to deliver a blockbuster but rather, it made sure that audiences will leave the cinemas happy, albeit scared out of their wits and wondering if there would be a sequel. And that, in itself is an endorsement of how great a movie is.