Tuesday, March 31

Review: Sundo (2009)

Directed by Topel Lee
Starring Robin Padilla, Rhian Ramos, Sunshine Dizon

You can feel the cold creeping in and squeezing your windpipes. You are Louella (Sunshine Dizon) getting soaked in the rain, shoes sticky with mud, as you watch your father's skeleton stumble out of its coffin clumsily dropped by cemetery caretakers. You are Baguio, sprawling, eternally cold and gray like a blanket hiding a corpse.

Director Topel Lee and cinematographer J. A. Tadena transform the usually cheery Baguio into a brooding, opaque hell where houses seem to shiver in the cold. Bathed in muted palettes of browns and steel, the fluorescent light seems alien, a fragile glow that the dark is hungry to devour, while the ghosts, ang mga sundo, lurk in the mist-like shadows.

The noun "sundo" has no direct English translation: it is a person---a close relative, a sweetheart---who picks you up from school or work with the specific purpose of making sure you get home safely, ie. My sundo (boyfriend or parent) has arrived. As a verb, sundo means to pick someone up (from school or work). In the movie, Romano (Robin Padilla) sees dead people, but these are ghosts with a mission, to be the sundo, the guide of the dying from this life to the after life. In effect, every appearance of a ghost is an omen of death.

Romano and childhood friend Louella drive down to the city with his sister, the blind Isabel (Rhian Ramos), to find a cure for her ailment, along with a few companions. Romano dreams about an accident that kills them all but wakes up in time to prevent it from happening. He suddenly hears a baby crying and as he steps out of the vehicle, he realizes that they are surrounded by ghosts. They were meant to die and now their sundo have arrived.

Sundo is a movie severely split in two. The first half is moody, atmospheric, and genuinely dead cold; its claustrophobic static can be felt at the back of the neck. The second half, which begins right after the should-have-been accident, is commercial Hollywood that is too reminscent of Final Destination.

What a damn shame.

There could be higher forces at work here and Lee does his best to keep the brooding tone, but the gimicky accidents (being blinded by flying embers from your favorite isaw stand) are laughably scripted and clumsily executed with not enough B-movie gusto that they turn out flat. And boring.

There's a twist in the movie's last few minutes that almost saves the movie from predictability but it is carried out in exactly the same way that Ouija (Topel's previous horror genre effort) ended, with someone being pulled into the darkness.

Is it just me or was that last echoing scream a cry of frustration?



Andy Briones said...

Haven't seen this yet; have a bad feeling about it. :p

Saw a local indie flick last Sunday. I don't know if you've heard about it; title is Hikbi. I didn't even finish it; walked out of the cinema feeling I've wasted 151 pesos yet again. Ehehe.

Thor Bee said...

That bad, eh?

Saw the trailer of Hikbi. It was iffy. Middle-aged gay man as victim of juicy young man. Again.


There should be a reversal of roles; that would make things more interesting.

Thor Bee said...

Andy: Kailan pala palabas yung bagong indie ni Rosanna Roces?

Andy Briones said...

I think it's showing already in Robinsons Galleria. I don't think it's any good — just a hunch, ehehe. Have you seen the trailer?

Try to catch her other film, the one the MTRCB banned (Aurora).

Theo Martin said...

I haven't seen this, but Ouija I saw, and was grossly disappointed, script and story-wise. :) So I guess i don't have to sit through this if atmosphere is all I can get from it, right? :)

this is scary, my word verification is: coureepi...creepy. :)

Thor Bee said...

Hi, Theo!

This is better than Ouija when it comes to coureepi-ness (couldn't resist), cinematography and pacing. Sayang talaga because the first half was outstanding. I hope that Topel Lee will be given a film project soon where he's free to go nuts. :D


No, I haven't seen the trailer yet but I NEED to watch a good Filipino movie (that's new). All the Thai films I've seen lately are frighteningly well-made (and most are well-written too); I badly need a dose of optimism when it comes to the present state of Filipino cinema. :p

Aurora, where are thou showing?