Review: Chito Roño's THE HEALING
Chito Roño's The Healing is afflicted with a chronic case of indecision. It is viciously a horror film, one that stretches the limits of good taste with very visual and shocking depictions of violence and morbidity. In fact, the film holds the record for being the first Filipino film to be granted two different ratings by local censors, one for the trimmed version that is presumably more suited for teens and another for the version that displays all the acts of depravity Roño's creative mind can conjure within the limited range of popular cinema.
However, Roño apparently has more ambitions for the film other than trite terror. The film is specifically designed, divided into various parts that are differentiated from one another by color schemes, beginning with white, then blue, then red, and yellow. Such designs are too obscure though. They are more puzzling than elucidating, more annoying than enlightening. The experiments only succeed in diluting the scares, bewildering the sense with what essentially are artsy indulgences that are either infuriatingly empty and shallowly motivated or too inexplicable to matter. The film opens in a remote village where faith healer Elsa (Daria Ramirez) is busy receiving a crowd of sick people. Seth (Vilma Santos) has brought her father (Robert Arevalo), a stroke victim, for healing. Seth's father miraculously recovers. Inspired by the miraculous recovery of Seth's father, her sick friends and neighbors decide to take the trip to Elsa's house to urge her to also heal them. Cookie (Kim Chiu), the daughter of Seth's ex-husband who is desperate for a cure for her cancer, also joined the group going to Elsa. They eventually get what they wished for from the faith healer. However, one by one, they become brutal and violent, killing as many as they can before committing suicide.
The Healing spends a great deal of time needlessly attempting to make sense of the plentiful contrivances it filled its plot with. Simplicity is not one of Roño's priorities. The film indulges in so many points that require tiring explanations and expositions, some of which seem too farfetched to be believed or to be appreciated. While the genre relies heavily on the supernatural and the unexplainable, Roño's story seems too all over the place, forcing everything to cohere seamlessly like a completed jigsaw puzzle. Unfortunately, the film's insistence on forcing the details mostly backfires, creating a story that meanders a little bit too much.
The key to good horror is not necessarily what is overtly shown and depicted but the quality and the extent of what is left to the imagination. Roño invests a lot in The Healing's visual design. Practical effects are abandoned for computer-generated effects, allowing grislier and more deranged sequences to exist with absolute ease. Instead of heightening the tension, the computer-generated effects only deflates it, inviting humor with how closer it resembles cartoons than macabre realism instead of fear. The acting is also unnecessarily pronounced and hysterical, despite the characters' unnatural reaction to impending amorality and death. There is just too little left for the audience.
The film is just frustratingly cluttered, serving details and elements, motivations and reactions, all of which do not necessarily fit the material they are forced to support. The Healing is commendable only for the fact that it attempted to stray from the inanities of uninspired horror cinema that has occupied Philippine cinema for far too long. It bears ideas and an execution of such ideas that evince an ambition and effort to break away from tired conventions. Sadly, everything ends up in forgettable confusion.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)