Director: Pedring A. Lopez | Story: Pedring A. Lopez and Dennis Empalmado | Screenplay: Dennis Empalmado and Rex Lopez
Cast: Ella Cruz, Bret Jackson, AJ Muhlach, Donnalyn Bartolome, Andrew Muhlach, Rose Van Ginkel, Caleb Santos, Samatha Capulong, Jack Reid, Lander Vera-Perez, Abby Bautista
On February 24, 1986, a day before the clergy-led EDSA Revolution, a priest tried to exorcise a demon on that very house. He appears to have succeeded based on a video that was shot that day (the one the movie starts with), but, as we’d know much later, he wasn’t able to get it out of the body of the possessed. In fact, it possessed him, right until the day he died – and beyond that.
This is the kind of norm that a group of millennial filmmakers step into, on February 24, 2016, when they go inside the house to do a little bit of ghost hunting. What they find is exponentially worse.
It’s not just history.
Past is Present
I’ve seen two versions of this movie: a workprint version, late last year, and the one that was released in the theaters. The former is interesting because it’s more of a steady stream of found footage, it gives the viewers an opportunity to stay with the characters and just let them drone on and on – until shit hits the fan. It’s arrythmic, and more spontaneous, with only an impression of a first and second act: a bunch of kids talking, joking, fooling around, toying with their cameras and devices, oblivious to the creepy, unnerving stuff around the house.
When they stumble upon a chest full of SLRs and Super 8s, they treat them as if they’re just a bunch of smartphones that they can take selfies with. So when the bad stuff hits, it hits like a barrage of assaults in relentless succession.
The theatrical cut retains a lot of the spontaneity but is a bit more streamlined, with a lot more of the familiar plot structure. Brisker, tighter, and more pithy. The down times are shortened so it doesn’t linger with the characters quite as long, but gives them enough time to shine.
It also makes their individual fates a lot harsher.
One thing that viewers should realize is that this is a slasher movie. That’s what’s rather unique about this. It’s an ‘80s slasher movie processed through the look, the style, and approach of found footage horror. It’s a very movie kind of movie, and it never hides this fact. The kids here represent the ‘80s slasher/horror archetypes. There’s the Jock. The Cheerleaders. The Nerds/Stoners. The Nice Guy. The Token Minority. And the Final Girl.
The actors are all holding the cameras for real. We see both what they’re shooting, and them shooting it. The situations weave in and out of these, and so does the editing. The film is stitched and cobbled from their combined footage, forming a collage of combined experiences. Instead of merely watching from a distance, the viewer is made more complicit and involved. We see their mugging and their interpersonal squabbles from both their perspective and ours. It’s Big Brother mixed with Youtube.
Present is Past
In the workprint, it’s a steady stream of footage, so the characters are largely a blur. The theatrical cut breaks down the flow a little bit more, so there’s more focus on the personalities – and the various kills, which are packed with detail. Throats get slashed, bodies bleed, faces smashed, eyeballs gouged, and there are voices.
This is a slasher horror movie, after all, so teenagers have to die.
There is a fairly poignant commentary in how these millennials walked into this awful state of things that are largely not of their doing, their only mistake being that they did not recognize the flaws and errors of the past, and gave the it the reverence it ‘deserves’. So they got blindsided. One day, they’re on top of the world, with their feels and their rave parties. The next thing, they are fending for their lives, chased by motorcycled men because of drugs – and because certain reforms remain unfulfilled.
This is the vicious normal they walk into, and it’s like they’re being fed to the chopping block – due to previous attempts to save the world that simply did not deliver.
Darkroom is really a film about today’s youth, a youth that is saddled by the rotten, bloodied legacy of February 1986, its unfinished revolution, and the horrifying interregnum it has plunged this country into, full of mayhem and death, the frustration it’s created, and the brutal hate that it continues to inspire.
The demon’s t-shirt in the film says West Philippine Sea.