LAAPFF Review: ‘Eerie’ (2019), dir. Mikhail Red
Catholic boarding schools should really do something about their public image!
Eerie has all the elements of a great horror film. Creepy ghost girls? Check. Scary, oppressive nuns? Check. A beautiful lead actress subjected to terror? Of course!
But while Mikhail Red’s first attempt at a horror film looks the part and goes through all the right motions, Eerie winds up being a weak pantomime of what a great horror film should be. Eerie doesn’t break any new ground or introduce any interesting new characters to the horror genre–it simply exists as a clichéd, checklist genre film.
Like many horror films out there, Eerie is driven by a rumor. Legend has it that a girl named Erika horribly killed herself in the bathroom on the grounds of Sta. Lucia, a Catholic boarding school run by the authoritarian nun Sor Alice (Charo Santos-Concio). As stranger and stranger things start to happen, it becomes alarmingly apparent that the threat of Erika is all too real. In an attempt to help the spirit, a kind-hearted, wide-eyed guidance counselor Pat (Bea Alonzo) tries to investigate what exactly happened to Erika on that tragic day. But as Pat digs deeper and deeper into the truth of the matter, she realizes that perhaps some situations are better left unexplored.
If Eerie‘s plot seems familiar, that’s because it is (see: almost every film about a kind-hearted soul trying to help a spirit only to have things turn out horribly). Eerie is a horror film that we’ve all seen before–and that’s not only apparent through Red’s hackneyed screenplay. Throughout Eerie‘s 101 (admittedly) hair-raising minutes, Red borrows some very specific horror movie tropes but doesn’t give them any unique twists to make them his own. For example, in one instance Pat washes her face in the sink and hallucinates that she’s washing her face with blood instead of water. While she is chasing the ever-elusive Erika, Pat walks into a dusty old room filled with flowing white sheets draped over everything (the audience groaned audibly, knowing that something was going to jump out). In perhaps the most direct homage to another horror film, the entire beginning is also set up to be almost exactly like Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1999), “I saw her face” dead girl jump scare and all. Although I do have to give Red props for not including a medicine cabinet jump scare given his many, many opportunities to do so, most of Eerie seems to borrow all of its scare tactics from other horror films that probably did them better.
The other noticeably unfortunate part of the film is how unevenly it all flowed. When it comes to great horror movies, there are often moments of levity to ease the tension at certain parts to give its viewers a chance to catch their breath. Eerie had none of these. The entire mood of the film is kept remarkably dim, and there was nothing outside of the film to signify that the film’s inhabitants had lives outside of investigating Erika’s death. Just as Pat was tortured by ghosts throughout her investigation, we as audience members are subjected to that same never-ending tension that stretches out for the entire film’s runtime. Watching Eerie felt tiresome since Erika could pop out at literally any moment. Another problem with doing this within a horror film is that it greatly lessens the impact of the scares that do happen. While a film like Ringu or Hereditary (2018) uses the entire film’s runtime to build up to a few large scares at the end, Eerie pops off and tries to squeeze in a jump scare whenever it can. Within the first hour or so of the film, Pat (and other characters) return to Erika’s bathroom SO MANY TIMES that it simply gets annoying. How often can you get scared by the same battered bathroom door and Pat’s excessively slow motions?
But of course, some people don’t watch horror films for their storyline or how well they redefine the genre. If you’re looking for a film that will deliver on the jump scares and the fun factor, Eerie scratches that itch. Paired with gorgeous, washed out sepia-toned cinematography (courtesy of Mycko David), Eerie may not be the most memorable film story-wise but it does a great job at mixing East Asian and Western horror conventions. Red finds an interesting middle ground between the two–taking the monsters so often found in East Asian films (Erika makes a vengeful long haired ghost girl) and injecting the pacing of a mainstream Western horror film (think films that have jump scares by the dozen like Insidious (2010) or The Nun (2018)). As far as Filipino horror films go, Eerie will definitely appeal to thrill seekers in the Western world who want to be entertained by abundant scares.
Although Eerie struggles with its largely forgettable storyline and non-existent message, it remains a great, Friday night watch with your friends. Eerie will definitely make you jump–just make sure you have a bathroom buddy for when it’s all over.
Rating: 3 / 5
Follow the director Mikhail Red on Twitter: @MikhailRed
Eerie was screened as part of the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF).