is more dangerous: torrential monsoons, demonic possession, or the tabloid
media? All three are coalescing into a perfect storm in Metro Manila. As reports
of spiritual possession sweep the city, two rival networks will race to bottom
trying to scoop each other. The story takes on personal dimensions for one particular
news crew in Brillante Ma Mendoza’s Sapi (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s Macabro, the Mexico City International Film Festival.
is a Catholic country, so they take demonic doings quite seriously. It is also
a ratings driver. SBN even has a show dedicated to it: Sapi, meaning possession. Unfortunately, PBC has been eating their
lunch. The case of a school teacher named Ruby is a perfect example. By the
time reporter Dennis Marquez got there with his producer Meryl Flores, PBC had
already caught all the juicy Linda Blair action, so they had to settle for a
bland sit-down with the apparently exorcized woman.
a Mary Mapes level breach of journalistic ethics, Flores strikes a deal with Baron
Valdez, their freelance cameraman, to smuggle some of the good footage out of
PBC. However, when their pilfered video runs on SBN, they neglected to pixelate
Ruby’s face. Suddenly, a lot of people are unhappy with Flores and her team,
perhaps including a supernatural agency. In fact, ever since they left Ruby,
the three tabloid journalists have been plagued by disturbing dreams and gory
Sapi is a strange
genre hybrid that probably spends more time on the dodgy side of journalism
than the business of supernatural horror. Thankfully, Mendoza does not go the found
footage route, but the film clearly has a deliberately handheld video-on-the-fly
look just the same. Yet, since Sapi is
so grounded, when Mendoza springs a paranormal jolt, it is really freaky.
in addition to being morally challenged, the SBN journalists are also kind of
dull. Rather, it is the supporting veteran character actors who really add color
and flavor to the proceedings, such as Jon Achaval and Raquel N. Villavicencio
as the bickering news director and station chief.
Nonetheless, Mendoza uses the city to full noir
effect. He captures a vivid sense of its chaos and grittiness, without
wallowing in poverty porn. It is even more ragged around the edges than he
intended, with many of the pieces rather haphazardly forced together, but his
mastery of mood and tone is impressive. Throughout Sapi there is a persistently unnerving sensation something sinister
lurks just outside our field of vision and the notion of bottom-feeding
journalists exploiting demonic possession feels all too here-and-now. Recommended
for those who prefer a healthy dose of social commentary with their horror
films, Sapi screens this Saturday
(8/23) and the following Friday (8/29), as part of this year’s Macabro.
Labels: Brillante Mendoza, Filipino Cinema, Horror Movies, Macabro '14, The media on film