Filipino Horror In My Mother’s Skin

A woman in an elaborate costume holds a luminous object over a bowing child

picture: Epicmedia/Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

The only non-english language film in this year’s Midnight section 2023 Sundance Film Festival, In my mother’s skin is a heartbreaking horror story about a girl who finds herself in a desperate situation and makes a decision she quickly regrets. It takes place in the Philippines near the end of World War II, but its themes transcend the specifics of its setting.

With an opening scene that appears to show some sort of cannibal zombie monster devouring its prey — it’s dark, but you get enough of the details — writer-director Kenneth Dagatan signals that war isn’t the only danger looming She is waiting. However, the Second World War looms on the fringes of history and endangers the family at its core in many ways. Judging by their big house, set back from the village in a forest full of chattering insects, their life was once comfortable; however, they are now running out of food. Another problem is a neighbor who has allied with the Japanese occupying forces and is convinced that the family has a pile of gold hidden somewhere in the house.

A dire situation worsens when the father rushes to the Americans’ aid, making his wife Ligaya (Beauty Gonzalez) promise not to leave the house – and telling his young son Bayani (James Mavie Estrella) to keep his gun just in case he has to protect Ligaya and Tala (Felicity Kyle Napuli), Bayani’s slightly older sister. Also nearby is Amor (Angeli Bayani), the family’s housekeeper, who must deal with her own concerns – something that becomes difficult when the threat of famine sets in and Ligaya becomes dangerously ill, with the strongest medicine available being the night the devout catholic family is prayers.

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picture: Epicmedia/Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Determined to help, the children disobey the “don’t leave the house” rule and sneak into the thick trees in search of food or a glimmer of hope that their father is still alive. This leads the naïve Tala to an encounter with an elaborately dressed, softly smiling creature (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) – Tala thinks she is a fairy, but there is something repulsive about this creature that the audience can clearly sense. (Horror fans know to be suspicious of anyone who suddenly appears in an abandoned shack and makes statements like “I’ve been waiting for you!”) When Tala’s new acquaintance offers a cure for Ligaya, a warning arrives so gentle it’s almost impossible is looks menacing except for it total and finds that a master manipulator has arrived. Tala must make her own choice, the “fairy” insists, but it comes down to accepting the mysterious potion or watching her mother die. Of course, Tala is too protected to understand that all of this comes with an added, unbelievably terrible, hidden price.

Things only get darker – often literally; In my mother’s skin makes heavy use of strategically underlit night scenes, all the better for confusing his viewers and characters alike – and worse from there as the zombie thing we met in the film’s opening moments circles back into the plot as expected. Barring a few sudden shocks, once we realize what’s at stake, the path Tala and her family must take is clear In my mother’s skin is not exactly a fast-paced thriller; it’s more of a slow walk towards what we know is to come, with atmospheric fear descending on all sides. You could ditch this somber fairy tale on the side The others, pan’s labyrinth, and Tigers are not afraid—three films that differ from each other in many ways In my mother’s skinbut shares his grimly unsentimental examination of how children deal with their own horrors while the horrors of war rage just beyond the confines of their lives.

In my mother’s skin had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival; it will stream on Prime Video later this year.

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