The intersection of folklore and horror is an eerie playground for filmmakers worldwide, where local myths and legends are skillfully woven into narratives that haunt the audience. From the chilling landscapes of “The Wicker Man” in Britain to the spine-tingling suspense of “The Blair Witch Project” in America, and the haunting cries of “La Llorona” in Guatemala to the ghostly whispers of “Kwaidan” in Japan, these tales have thrilled and terrified generations. Adding to this global repertoire is the Philippines’ contribution, “In My Mother’s Skin,” a film that has already captured the attention of Amazon Prime Video even before its premiere in Sundance’s Midnight program.
Set against the backdrop of the closing months of World War II, a time when the Philippines were in the grip of Japan’s relentless occupation, “In My Mother’s Skin” unfolds the saga of a family plunged into darkness. Director Kenneth Dagatan’s chilling masterpiece begins with a stark reminder of the horrors outside their mansion’s walls: “Did you hear about the baby that was bayoneted in Manila?” This line, heavy with political and supernatural undertones, sets the stage for a macabre tale.
The story centers around 14-year-old Tala (Felicity Kyle Napuli) and her family, once living a life of luxury in a grand estate, now decaying in the wake of war. Abandoned by her father, accused of hiding Japanese gold on their property, Tala, her brother Bayani (James Mavie Estrella), and their ailing mother Ligaya (Beauty Gonzalez) face scarcity and desperation. Sent on a foraging mission, the siblings stumble upon an eerie mansion in the forest, akin to Hansel and Gretel’s ill-fated encounter. However, Dagatan’s vision is far bleaker. The house, overgrown and stained, hides a malevolent secret, guarded by a deceitful fairy (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) promising salvation at a terrible price.
Dagatan’s storytelling is masterful, evoking childhood fairy tales with a dark twist, reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” The film dances delicately between a story-book nightmare and a historical allegory, creating an unsettling atmosphere that lingers even after the credits roll. Credit for this haunting ambiance goes to Russell Morton’s cinematography, where moonlit scenes bathe the characters in a pale glow, highlighting their vulnerability against the lurking shadows. The film’s surreal visuals serve as a reminder that sometimes, the most horrifying monsters are the ones that creep under our skin and pierce our flesh.
“In My Mother’s Skin” is not merely a gore fest; it’s a visceral exploration of the human psyche, a cautionary tale about the consequences of desperate bargains made with supernatural forces. With its exquisite blend of folklore, history, and horror, this Filipino gem leaves an indelible mark on the genre, showcasing the rich tapestry of stories that the world of cinema has yet to uncover.