Healing The Mistress
When I was living in Cambodia, there were no cinemas showing English films so my only means of watching them was through my neighborhood-friendly-pirated-DVD-shop. That, or I inserted going to the theater whenever I was in Bangkok, Saigon or any city that had cinemas. Watching Filipino films was more tricky since this usually involved getting it from someone who had just visited Manila the quality of said DVD was more debatable than my virginity.
Upon coming back, however, I realized that going to the movies was not as enjoyable as I remembered. Aside from the prohibitive ticket price, whatever happened to the multiple screenings that Philippine cinemas used to do? And the cinemas, ugh! Even the supposed upscale theaters are so blah compared to the cinemas in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. And just a year ago, at least two cinemas showing English films opened in Phnom Penh. I wonder how those are.
My complaints aside, these have not stopped me from watching films that I desired. When I saw the trailer of The Healing, it immediately aroused my interest. First, it’s a horror film; second, it’s by Chito Rono–who brought us the delightful ‘Spirit Warriors’ and the under-rated ‘Bulong’ and third, it starred Vilma Santos–even if she said that this was her first horror film, she has done films in the past with horrific elements. Remember ‘Tagos ng Dugo’ and ‘Haplos’?
So I made sure I caught it when it was shown. Now, as a horror film, ‘The Healing’ was very effective in delivering the goods with its combination of well-placed shocking moments, escalating violence and gore, and effective acting. By her presence alone, Vilma Santos provided gravitas to the situation her character was facing. But a great group of actors was also assembled in this movie, which increased its likability factor exponentially. Although, I must admit, their identities were a bit catalogue-ish. One of the secrets of an effective horror film is its characters’ ability to gain the sympathy of the audience, to root for them as they go through their darkest moments. I found myself rooting for each of the healed neighbor–praying for their safety while enjoying the set-pieces that served as their demise. I heard comparisons to another Chito Rono movie, ‘Feng Shui’ but I haven’t seen it (along with T2) so I can’t really say.
Technically, the film looks good but I think it relied too much on computer-generated imagery (CGI) for the visual effects. Many scenes would’ve looked better if they used more practical effects instead of CGI. Scenes like the death set-piece of Pokwang and of the young girl. I also found the eyeball effect on the doppelgangers to be silly looking, since it reminded me of this TV ad for a pain medication. I was initially baffled by the color blocking of the movie (kudos to the production designer/ art director!). It took me a while to come up with a theory–based on the ‘journey’ of Seth, the lead character.
At the start of the movie, the predominant color denoted purity of Seth and the healer. When the scene switched to the color blue (which meant constant, dependable), news of the healing had spread in Seth’s neighborhood, prompting them to take part of it. The switch to red signaled the start of the grisly deaths of the previously-healed patients, with escalating violence. Initially, the switch to yellow signified cowardice on Seth’s part as she struggled to solve the mystery before it ended in an optimistic and hopeful manner. Too much of a stretch? That’s just me.
The things I mentioned are just minor quibbles, though. They do not diminish the over-all entertainment value of the film.
If ‘The Healing’ was a milestone film (celebrating Vilma Santos’ anniversary in showbiz), ‘The Mistress’ also has its own milestone: the 10th anniversary of Bea Alonzo and John Lloyd Cruz’s love team. And they chose to celebrate this through a big movie that will blow their previous films away in terms of dramatic quotient. Star Cinema, I think, came up with a check list: controversial story: check; controversial love scenes: double check; resurrect retired formidable actress as support: check; bankable director: check. At the rate I’m going, one might surmise that I am bound to conclude that I found ‘The Mistress’ to be formulaic and ultimately cliched but I won’t. Far from it.
Clearly, though, this film is a vehicle for Bea and John Lloyd. So the film focused on their budding but doomed relationship instead of exploring the vagaries of being a mistress, as the title promised. But it’s okay–that would have been a totally different film. What is left is a compelling tale that shows us the many social and personal implications of the choices that we make in life. One of the things that I liked in this film is that it started in the middle of the action–so to speak.
When John Lloyd spotted Bea in the bookstore, much has already happened: Bea is already the kept woman of John Lloyd’s father, John Lloyd is already his father’s prodigal son. Same goes for the other characters: Carmi Martin and Hilda Koronel–as the mothers of Bea and John Lloyd, respectively–are still making amends for having an extra-marital affairs, the former by servitude and the latter by tolerating her husband’s own extra-marital affair. Bea’s grandmother–the reason for her current relationship status–is doing well under her own circumstances. But we do not know these things yet.
So whatever happens to both of them after this meeting is affected by these previous events, making us wonder, then commiserate after finding out the reason–or the context–through well-placed plot devices of such events. It made the experience richer for me, personally speaking.
Like I said, ‘The Mistress’ is a Bea – John Lloyd film, but acting-wise, I think Bea owned the whole film–sharing it only from time to time with John Lloyd. Bea displayed enormous range in her scenes, even her voice didn’t sound like she was about to cry. I’m not sure if this is the director’s work but her lower-trebled voice in this film is sultry and vulnerable and strong in all the right places. The scene where Bea discovers who John Lloyd really is and she feels she’d been played with is especially heartbreaking.
The movie offers no judgement to anything that happened in any of the characters. If this film was color-blocked in the same manner as ‘The Healing’, the characters would’ve been dressed in varying shades of gray because it has no clear moral stance, as things tend to be in real life. Fittingly, the film ends ambiguously. Some issues in their respective families were resolved but can we say the same thing about Bea and John Lloyd’s predicament? Fortunately, the film allowed us, the audience, to come up with own answers–imagined, or based on the preceding events.
By the way, ‘Chasing Cars’ was a perfect–if not overused song (at least, to Grey’s Anatomy fans) to end the movie. Loved it!