Seklusyon (2016) Review: Religiously Demonic Dark Horse

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Translation: “Seklusyon” means “Seclusion” in English

I’m going to get straight to the point: Most Filipino horror movies are shit. The genre has been in such a bad shape that it was up to a guy known for directing crime-thrillers to save the day, and for the most part, he pulled it off.

Set some time after World War 2, Seklusyon sees four young, aspiring priests in the midst of their silent retreat. As the retreat drags on, a mysterious supernatural presence makes the retreat house’s trapped occupants face their inner demons and confront a more sinister force. Coinciding with this is a lone priest’s investigations regarding a girl who claims to be a prophet of the Lord.

Given Seklusyon’s premise, one might expect another generic story where the immature forces of Heaven and Hell duke it out by fucking with random peoples’ lives instead of actually going at it. But since this movie is no pandering piece of shit, there’s a lot more going on in Seklusyon than what meets the eye.

Sacrilege Done Right

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Seklusyon doesn’t fit in with local horror movies. By that, I mean it’s actually good and disturbing as fuck – not another cliche-ridden clusterfuck.

A major problem with many local horror movies is that they are inherently NOT Filipino movies. This is because movies like the later Shake, Rattle And Roll entries lazily rip-off foreign horror movies, thus creating a pathetic, poorly translated and low-budgeted copy of the latest American horror trend.

Seklusyon on the other hand, is both well-made and insightful in the darkest ways possible. The movie shines an unforgiving light on the nation’s traditional Christian values and shows how questionable things like blind faith really are. From religious statues that cry tears of blood to morally shady priests, Seklusyon is a cinematic mockery of everything that defines Filipino Christianity.

It is through an ominous atmosphere, a masterful use of tension that adds dramatic weight to the blasphemous imagery, and a warped visual familiarity, that Seklusyon derives its disturbing motif from its native land. This makes Seklusyon’s frights all the more real and relatable for someone too familiar with the story’s setting. For lack of better words and as fucking corny as it may sound, Seklusyon is a true Filipino horror movie in every sense of the word.

A Lack Of Faithful Focus

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While Seklusyon excels in meeting its genre’s expectations, it falls short in story because it prioritized the artsy metaphors over the characters. Though the cast of Seklusyon deserve credit for being smarter than the average sentient slab of meat (i.e. The Victim) in any sub-standard horror movie, they still lack humanity. The characters of Seklusyon don’t have much to them outside of a backstory that can be summarized in a single sentence, and most of them exist to be spiritual cannon fodder.

Seklusyon also has a bad habit of skipping to the next set of nightmarish symbolism before delving more into any given character’s development, denying audiences of the chance to be truly invested in the plight of those onscreen. At most, the characterizations in Seklusyon are serviceable at best, so don’t bother trying to remember some hapless fucker’s name.

It doesn’t help when Seklusyon basically has two plots happening at the same time. On one end, the devout Miguel (Ronnie Alonte) tries to keep his faith and sanity intact as the seclusion goes from bad to demonic in the span of a single scene. Meanwhile, Father Ricardo (Neil Ryan Sese) investigates the circumstances surrounding the supposedly holy child Anghela (Rhed Bustamante) and the ramifications her miracles may imply.

Though both narrative arcs are worth following, it would have benefited Seklusyon if it focused on just one story line. By cutting scenes between Miguel and Fr. Ricardo, the tense atmosphere of Seklusyon tends to break when it awkwardly transitions from an exercise in isolation to the equivalent of a holy investigative documentary. Both of these narrative styles could have made a good horror movie, but simply combining the best of both worlds only resulted in needles clutter for Seklusyon. This was most evident when both arcs finally converged, only for one to be abruptly ended before rushing into the climactic, unsubtle tirade against the nationally dominant mindset.

Still, it’s a testament to Eric Matti’s talents as a director when he delivers the best Filipino horror movie seen in decades despite some minor bumps on the creepy road to a painful salvation.

The Monster Called Society

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As a dude who loves the ever-loving shit out of horror movies and film in general, I nearly gave up on Filipino cinema after learning how to dread the annual combination of shitty horror and the old MMFF’s slew of bullshit. Thankfully, movies like Heneral Luna (2015) and Seklusyon restored my faith in the local industry, and they’re a good reminder of the power of film in the local sense of things.

I live in a country where half the populace would literally vote a statue of Jesus Christ for president if the opportunity presented itself, making Seklusyon a much needed bitch slap to the face for those who blindly worship whichever charismatic motherfucker gets up on their gold-plated pedestal of false hopes. Seklusyon may be one-sided in its anger against the hypocritical powers that be, but it’s an unapologetic reminder of the dangerous faults of Filipino idolatry – religious and otherwise. Seklusyon shows that it’s not demons or supernatural entities that people should fear, but rather, the undeniable influence and reach of fanaticism.

This film represents more than the fact that Filipino filmmakers can actually make good films when given the chance: It also serves as a dark reflection of Filipino culture, with the nation’s well-known and infamous drug-like dependency on Christianity only serving as a highly critical starting point.

Seklusyon may not be perfection incarnate, but it’s the closest thing to it. That, and Seklusyon is a collection of everything that makes horror movies great: a compelling story, unsettling imagery, an unrelenting setting, bleak social subtexts, and a shit-ton of dead babies.


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