Amidst the creepy visuals and twisted religious figures (like more sinister, yet less memorable set pieces for Mike de Leon’s ITIM), Erik Matti creatively and unconventionally lays down what’s inside the mind of a faithful adolescent. As much as SEKLUSYON is a horror film about the Catholic faith, it can be best described as a subversive psychological thriller on abstinence. And through this subversion, Matti once again proved his sharp commentary of religion, taking it one step ahead.
1947. Four young deacons enter confinement in the middle of the woods to fulfill their final challenges before priesthood. What occurs is an expected series of temptations wrought by the Devil to test the conscience of each deacon. Along with the cunning Sister Cecilia, the infamous child faith healer Anghela (Rhed Bustamente) intrudes the seclusion, dismisses the original caretaker and providing questionable guidance over everyone. Meanwhile, a war veteran-turned-priest hunts down Anghela and Cecilia, uncovering the mysteries surrounding them and attempting to stop their twisted plans before it’s too late.
As much as its promising qualities work their best in the eerie introduction and the brilliant ending, SEKLUSYON stumbles in its problematic middle. The overall pacing seems short and rushed, but the exquisite quality of the cinematography and sound design demand more screen time to give justice to its picturesque production design and to the story itself. It seems to go over itself in the wrong direction, take for instance its hallucinatory flashback scenes that would’ve worked best with restraint and with a little less formulaic gimmicks. Performance-wise, there is a terrible sense of miscasting with Ronnie Alonte who seemed better off in scenes without lines. The same can be said with the other young actors, who all looked palatable in an Erik Matti film but didn’t seem to live up to it. The reliable Neil Ryan Sese stood out in this dry casting, although there is a sense that his appearances were cut short to feature more of the younger actors (perhaps to appeal to a millennial market). Had Matti given more scenes to Sese, the film would’ve made a lot more sense.
And while these unfortunate mistakes break what initially seemed like a flawless Christian horror film, there is still a strong sense of tongue-in-cheek, rendered by Erik Matti in the grandiose approaches reminiscent of past efforts HONOR THY FATHER, ON THE JOB and even VESUVIUS. He invested well in the casting of Rhed Bustamante. Practically still a child actor, her maturity in the role is genuine and convincing, as if she has captured the same magic Linda Blair breathed unto Regan MacNeil. Bustamante’s nightmarish performance from her gritty, slimy introduction to her predatory gaze in the seclusion house and of course to her brutal and exhausting final moments, she contributes a new demon child to a long list of youthful monsters in local horror.
And finally, SEKLUSYON builds up the tension to a breathtaking finale that really tips off what the film really wants to say. It may not state anything new, but Matti ends the film with more questions to ask. And yet, the point is still well taken even after going through his complicated execution, that the film’s view of humanity and religion is even more twisted than you’d think. SEKLUSYON suggests that the real villain is not our constructed figures of evil, but the intangible views and voices looming over our heads, influencing the less engaged, spreading falseness like a disease, and leaving out truth and reason in favor of perhaps the greatest evils of humanity today – idleness and apathy.