Watching Echorsis should have been simple. Weeks ago, my best friend and I have already decided to see it on cinemas in our usual haunt, Mall of Asia, which was halfway from where she lived (Manila) and where I lived (Cavite). But even before our scheduled weekend date, I learned that it was already being pulled out of many cinemas because it was not earning as much as expected. This, despite the fact that the film garnered rave reviews from film critics and despite being the only Pinoy movie that showed in theaters amid a sea of Hollywood big budget movies. In the end, we kept our fingers crossed and finally found a cinema still showing the movie and ended up in SM Manila. It was an effort that was well worth it.
Echorsis is the story of Kristoff (John Lapuz), a closet gay man who finds it hard to come out to his conservative parents about his true gender. He falls in love with Carlo (Alex Medina) who regularly cons gay men for money to fund the dream wedding of his materialistic social climbing girlfriend. But when he victimizes Kristoff and breaks his heart, he takes his own life and vows to take his revenge to the afterlife. Carlo finds himself plagued with Kristoff’s spirit and the task of exorcising the spirit falls to the hands of Father Nick (Kean Cipriano), Carlo’s childhood friend who is also wrestling with his own demons.
At first glance, Echorsis seems like a pretty straightforward black comedy — a parody of the popular 1973 horror classic The Exorcist supplanted with gay characters to update the context of the movie. Well, viewers would be right to expect this, but only up to a certain degree. While the movie started out as a comedy with a lot of cheesy montages, there is an underlying note of seriousness at the heart of it regarding its discussion of the stereotypes and problems being experienced by members of the LGBT — the fact that they are being judged by society, that they are being victimized by predators, the fact that they find it hard to find love and their personal conflicts with their families, which were highlighted by Kristoff’s situation.
The film reels viewers in with the comedy, the cheesy dialogue and the entertaining romantic montages between Kristoff and Carlo (I particularly liked the songs used in the movie), but it gradually shifts gears to become a commentary about society — about homosexuality and religiosity in particular.
Kudos to the Echorsis team for having the nerve to tackle sensitive issues and keeping the balance between education and entertainment. The film also made sure not to make sweeping generalizations about the behavior of the church about homosexuality by not painting all members of the church in the same brush. It was a pretty smart move to keep the peace among all parties concerned.
The film had a lot to say, and from time to time, it switched genres to transition from one sub-story to another. From horror in one scene to comedy in the other to a slight dramatic moment to close out the sequences, some worked and some didn’t. Overall, it didn’t seem forced or awkward, which I thought was a good thing.
Alex Medina and Kean Cipriano were amazing in this movie. While Alex’s scenes while he was possessed with Kristoff was awesome, my favorite scene was actually the one where he was getting ready for his wedding (as a guy) and he quickly and transformed into “Kristoff.” His transition was so fluid and subtle yet the small gestures truly sealed the deal and convinced viewers that he was no longer Carlo. Such was the case for Kean as well. I loved how he presented himself as a conflicted man of God and I must admit that I felt his chemistry with Alex in their scenes together. This is a mark of two great actors — two straight actors — to convey strong romantic tension on screen.
On the technical side, I was impressed by the cinematography of this film. Every shot was well thought out and framed perfectly, from the horror scenes, to the quieter ones, it was just beautiful to watch.
I did have a bit of an issue with how Kristoff’s friends were presented in one part of the movie. While at first, the characters were genuine and supportive, I didn’t like that they fell into the classic stereotype when faced with temptation. I think it took away some of the impact of the what the movie was trying to say. What I did love was the literal “sabunutan between good and evil.” It was a super funny scene that delivered on everything the trailer promised.
All in all, Echorsis was an experience in itself. More than a black comedy, it was a film that had a lot to say about real issues. It was a film that intended to start a conversation about these issues and bravely laid its cards on the table given its limited budget. Inadvertently, it also became a vehicle to highlight the plight of Filipino independent filmmakers who are trying to produce good movies but don’t get enough support from cinemas. It bravely tackled the taboos and presented it in a manner that was both entertaining and visually engaging. It sneakily reeled viewers in with comedy but eventually made them think. A must watch while still showing in cinemas, and I could safely say, the film’s effort and content is no laggard when to compared to Hollywood’s best.