Jun Lana's August scare tactics
By Phillip Cu-Unjieng (The Philippine Star) Updated August 31, 2009 12:00 AM
Film review: Tarot
MANILA, Philippines - It’s Halloween in late August (and early September), thanks to Regal’s new horror flick — the Marian Rivera/Dennis Trillo starrer, Tarot. Coming on the heels of Mag-ingat Ka Sa Kulam, noted director and award-winning screenplay writer Jun Lana once again proves how he’s one of today’s masters in providing the scares and chills that we anticipate from films of this genre. The creepy soundtrack, the twists and turns in the plotline, the false starts and macguffins, the sudden appearances just when we’re exhaling our sighs of timid relief, they’re all here and accounted for, making the audience stay on the edge of their seats; and forgiving the lapses in credibility. In fact, while there is a somewhat convoluted storyline that attempts to make sense of the mayhem and corpses that pile up, we all know that the real meter for films of this sort is how many times it has made our hearts skip a beat, or have us watching with eyelids at half-mast! And on those scores, the audience that watched the screening was more than appreciative of how Jun managed to sustain the horror quotient of his film.
The film opens with a backstory of young Cara (who eventually grows up to be Marian Rivera) — a child who’d spy on her manghuhula lola (Gloria Romero), and would already feel the tarot cards were speaking to her. Her mother (Susan Africa) pleads with said lola to spare Cara from exploring this “gift.” As she blossoms into a young woman, while on a hiking trip with fiancé Miguel (Dennis Trillo), Miguel inexplicably disappears, forcing the hand of Cara to turn to those cards to find Miguel. The cards do “speak,” but the Miguel they find also brings something back with him — something dark and ominous. And we’re thrust into a world of deep family secrets and long-lost friendships, of betrayals from loved ones and from unexpected quarters, of tests of forgiveness and compassion, and a world of cults and suicide pacts. There’s this theme of how things in nature are primeval, mysterious, and powerful, and how complacent urban life is no match for this force when it decides to take on a malevolent hue.
The support cast of Roxanne Guinoo (as Faye, Cara’s best friend), the aforementioned Gloria Romero and Susan Africa, Celia Rodriguez and Dante Rivero, Niña Jose (as the young version of Gloria’s character) all ably add texture to the story and provide telling signposts for our discovery of the fates of Cara and Miguel. Ultimately though, it is the central story of Cara and Miguel that carry this film. Even before her rise to teleserye stardom on GMA, the forays of Marian in various films and guest-starring roles proved she could hold her own in the acting department, and if anything, Dennis, for me, will always be more actor than movie star. It’s their acting that gives this film a center upon which all the CGIs and special effects can now drape themselves on, and effectively bring about the suspension of disbelief.
PEP REVIEW: Tarot boasts of a tight and unpredictable storyline
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Jun Lana's Tarot is a scary Pinoy horror film. It's so scary that I when came home to my apartment at around midnight, I was spooked by the white gauze curtain billowing in the breeze from the half-opened window. I replaced it with a heavier one (never mind the heat) and, while at it, turned my full-length dressing mirror to the wall and covered the television screen with a tablecloth. My side of the apartment will probably be like that for the next two days and two comedy films later.
I feel like kicking myself because Tarot is a sum of horror movie staples: a zombie bride, a creepy religious cult in a rural mountain town, a strange old lady who foretells disaster, and of course, the disturbing set of fortunetelling cards.
Against her mother's admonitions, Cara (Marian Rivera) cultivates the psychic gifts she inherited from her grandmother Auring (Gloria Romero), a talented fortuneteller who owns a powerful set of Tarot cards. One day, Cara foretold two deaths in the family. Minutes later, her father and her grandmother fell dead and she is forbidden by her mother (Susan Africa) from using her psychic ability. The cards were also buried with her Lola Auring.
Fifteen years later, Cara's and her fiancé Miguel (Dennis Trillo) were separated in a hiking trip. As days passed and Miguel remains missing¸ Cara defies her mother's restriction and digs up her grandmother's grave to take back the cursed cards and use them to find her fiancé. She finds Miguel but soon, strange things began to happen and a terrifying specter terrorizes them. As Cara struggles to end the murders, she must dig into the dark secrets of her family's past.
Tarot has a tight and rich storyline that is sustained until the end. There are many misleads and plot twists that keep the audience at the edge of their seats but the storyline is as clean as a meticulously combed hairpiece; not a strand in place.
Its strength lies in the suspense—the strategic positioning of the veiled apparition to induce thrill and fear, the mood setting before the next attack, and (this is very rare in Pinoy horror) the unpredictability of the plot, which keeps us wanting more and yet dreading the next appearance of the vengeful ghost.
Direk Jun Lana also made sure that there are images that will stick to mind and haunt us in solitude, which is unavoidable since there are curtains, clotheslines, beds, hallways, and doors everywhere.
The blending of family history and the occult is also nothing new but in Tarot, it glues the elements of the film together—the origins of the ghosts and the reason for the haunting explained. No character and event goes to waste.
Trivia: the filmmakers used a specially designed set of cards so as not to attract supernatural elements while filming the movie.
The film, which also stars Gloria Romero, Celia Rodriguez, Alwyn Uytingco, Roxanne Guinoo, Niña Jose, and Susan Africa, was shot partly in Mt. Banahaw (considered to be a sacred mountain for many religious groups).
Tarot is graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board and rated PG-13 by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. It will open in cinemas nationwide starting today, August 26, 2009.
Sleek, polished horror flick
STAR BYTES By Butch Francisco (The Philippine Star) Updated September 01, 2009 12:00 AM
This is what life is like for us in the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB), the group that gives tax rebates to local movies (100 percent for those graded A and 65 percent for those graded B). Since the time I sat in the board, the policy had always been to keep the title of the movie secret to those reviewing the film — that is until we get to the screening room. Why? Because if we find out that we are going to sit through what is obviously a crappy film, everyone will be calling in sick and we’ll never get to have a quorum. Administrative head Wilma Isleta and her assistant Rose Hicaro therefore had long been instructed not to tell any member what we are watching for the day.
And so we sometimes end up with deservingly graded A films that eventually get voted as the year’s Best Picture in the local awards derbies. Most times, we get graded B films that make us leave the screening room still happy because the movie wasn’t really all that bad. But in some cases, we kick ourselves in the head for waking up early and braving Makati traffic only to end up watching films that should never have been produced at all.
Last week, CEB scheduled two films for viewing and no one was able to foretell that both movies were about fortune telling. As in back-to-back films about seers — or manghuhula in the vernacular.
The first film was Tarot (pronounced tarr-oh), which is directed by Jun Lana. We had high hopes for Tarot because Jun was also behind last year’s Matakot ka sa... Kulam (starring Judy Ann Santos) and that got an A from CEB.
Jun is obviously done with his voodoo doll phase and has shifted to tarot cards. And so in the film Tarot, we see lead star Marian Rivera tampering with the tarot cards of her grandmother (Gloria Romero), who in her lifetime was the best and never made the mistake of predicting that it was Miss Valenzuela who was going to be crowned Miss Universe of 1994. (For today’s generation, this is a potshot at Madame Auring, who wrongly claimed 15 years ago that it was going to be Miss Valenzuela — obviously referring to Miss Venezuela — who would be crowned Miss Universe when the contest was held here in Manila).
Marian actually didn’t want to have anything to do with granny’s tarot cards, but her boyfriend, Dennis Trillo, disappears during a hike in Mount Banahaw and the only solution she can think of is to retrieve the deck from lola’s grave and start reading them (she, too, is gifted with that ability). Unfortunately for Marian and those around her, having the cards around again could have ugly consequences — and that’s where the screamfest starts.
What I like best about Tarot is that it never resorts to cheap scare tactics to frighten the viewers. Jun is creative enough to think of perfectly logical scenes to elicit screams from the audience — and succeeds.
The special effects are also superior and you appreciate how the production outfit, Regal Films, spends for it because that is one factor that makes Tarot a quality horror film.
The think-tank behind Tarot should also be lauded for blending within the story cityscape with the very rural scenes of Mount Banahaw because by doing so, we get the best of both worlds. And so we are treated to sightings of ghosts running after our lead characters in quaint locales and at the same time see people falling off tall buildings in an urbanized setting. I guess it’s no longer acceptable for moviegoers of today to just put all the screen characters in one haunted house — like they used to in old horror films — and have them killed one by one (except for the lead, of course). You people are getting to be so demanding. What will you ask for next? A global horror film isn’t such a bad idea.
Tarot is truly a sleek and polished horror movie to please even the most discriminating of local viewers. However, I still have a little quarrel or two over some aspects of the film. One is the prolonged back-story of the character of Gloria Romero in Mount Banahaw. Fortunately, Regal Films was wise enough to cast Celia Rodriguez — as a one-eyed jack espiritista — in that part because only she could make those long and extended sequences interesting and without making the viewers yawn.
My other quarrel with Tarot? It’s quite minor. It’s about the casting of a supposedly newborn infant who is shown on screen as a child big enough to enter kindergarten. To think that the baby is even said to be premature. However, that’s a very small detail.
Tarot really deserves more praise and one of those who should be congratulated is Marian, who turns in an inspired performance. Dennis, already an award-winning actor, as always delivers. I should also give credit to Susan Africa, who plays Marian’s mother because she is very believable as a woman who refuses the power to see the future and as a loving mom who only wants the best for her daughter.
Tarot truly makes it as this year’s best horror film and I can hardly wait for Jun’s scream-your-lungs-out project next year.
Oh, didn’t I say we reviewed two films of the same theme in CEB? The other one is also about fortune telling, but I’m reviewing that next time. If you read the entertainment section of this paper and know the forthcoming films to be shown soon in local movie theaters, maybe you can already guess what it is.
‘A’ for 2 horror films
By Marinel Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:46:00 09/02/2009
Filed Under: Cinema, Entertainment (general)
MANILA, Philippines—Two horror movies, “Tarot” and “Manghuhula,” were rated “A” by the Cinema Evaluation Board last week for their “well-crafted” and “compelling” stories about the occult. An “A” gives a movie a 100-percent tax rebate.
In “Tarot,” director Jun Lana had “control over his rich material” said CEB chair Christine Dayrit, quoting a board member.
In the movie Marian Rivera plays Cara, who sees the future through her grandmother’s tarot cards. Fearing for her daughter’s life, Cara’s mother stops her from using her gift.
“Tarot” is currently showing in local theaters.