What makes a great Filipino horror film? (CNN Philippines)

I was interviewed by CNN Philippines Life for the article What makes a great Filipino horror film?. I’m part of a group of amazing Filipino filmmakers like Carlo Ledesma (The Tunnel), Jerrold Tarog (AswangSana Dati), Jade Castro (Zombadings), and others.

I’m with really in great company here. I was included as the screenwriter of T’yanak. Take a look at the article on the link provided on the article’s title.

I love horror movies because it’s a way for us to face and confront that which frightens us. It’s our way of dealing with fear, a primal instinct that brings us to our utmost primal nature. Fight or flight. Sitting comfortably, whether it be in a cinema or in the comforts of our own home, we face that which scares us and it makes us braver, it tells us who we are and how we react, and it gives us a measure of control. It’s a test of our humanity. How much we can struggle with the fight-or-flight instinct and sit there and take it all until the film ends.

That’s why scary films have to be truly scary. They have to be representational of things we are really afraid of. Good horror is all about real fear. We aren’t really afraid of the monsters/people/situations in these films but what they are truly representative of. A good horror film stays with you because the symbolism rings true in real, everyday life.

A bad horror film is just good for a momentary laugh but then it passes. You move on with your life. A good horror film stays with you. You wrestle with it. It sticks.

I like my dad’s horror films — AswangTiyanak, and his forays into the Shake, Rattle, and Roll series. I think they were numbers 2, 3, and 4 and the third film in the first Shake, Rattle, and Roll. 

Having grown-up with filmmaker parents means that I grew up with films and filmmaking. My dad and mom did quite a few scary films and I grew up with the props and the monsters as they were kept in the house during (and even after) principal photography. It’s hard to scare me in a movie. I have an instinct of where to put my eyes in a scene and what to expect. The sudden shocks and the cheap thrill suspense doesn’t quite get to me as it does other people.

If you want to scare me in a horror film, you have to play with my imagination. You have to get me to care and you have to get me to feel it and think about it as the movie unfolds.

Of the recent horror films that came out, The Witch really got to me. The set-up, the situation, the pervading and persistent mood of dread, and then later enhanced by great acting and a solid script — all of these make up a very, very frightening experience at home. I enjoyed every minute of it and I still think about it months and months since I’ve seen it. Now that’s a scary film.

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I loved Sixth SenseThe Others, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and of course, 30 Days of Night. I’m a huge fan of The Conjuring and The Babadook. These films are still with me until now and I’m still working them out in my head. Images from these films remain and I am still struggling and dealing with the representations they have of real fears and what it means.

It Follows was also quite scary except the last twenty minutes or so of the film sort of dropped the ball. It was so good and it was so strong and it really stayed with me but as it was entering its last act, it couldn’t maintain that high of level of horror.

I’m not impressed by special effects. My imagination is way more frightening than any CGI effect. Be sparing. Be very sparing would be my advice to horror filmmakers. You can scare people by just introducing an idea. There’s no need to throw in a whole bunch of expensive CGI just to get a scream. More often than not, with how sophisticated audiences are now of special effects, it probably won’t do what you hope it would achieve.

I loved The Descent. I thought it was emotionally powerful, frightening in its setting and dramatic situation, and I really connected with the characters. It’s still one of the first films I suggest when people ask for a good scary movie. Not many people liked it as much as I did. But I always say it.

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Shauna Macdonald in a fantastic scene from The Descent

I love horror films that mess me up psychologically and get under my skin. I like being frightened that switching off the television or leaving the theater won’t get rid of the fear because it stays with you.

You want to scare people? Hit them with something that can represent a true and deep-seated fear. As I say in the article in CNN Philippines Lifeit’s not the monster, per se, that scares you. It’s what the monster represents in your daily life.

I don’t think I said it that way, but I should have. I always freak out when I’m being interviewed. I always think of better ways to say things after the interview is done.

Now, that’s a fear I wouldn’t mind having to face more often. Confession: I like being interviewed.

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