Kenneth Dagatan’s latest horror movie, In My Mother’s Skin, premiered at this year’s Sundance Festival and received quite the ovation for being one of those horror movies that just click. Starring Justin Curtis-Smith, Beauty Gonzalez, and Felicity Kyle Napuli, among others, this is a horror movie that might remind you of the 2006 horror Pan’s Labyrinth. Replete with folk horror imagery and themes of a destructive war, here’s a detailed review of the latest Filipino horror movie, In My Mother’s Skin.
What’s This Movie About?
With the Japanese occupation of the Philippines almost coming to an end towards the end of World War II, a secluded family living amidst the jungles has to suddenly deal with a horrible situation. Romualdo, the husband of Ligaya and father of two kids, is threatened by a Japanese man to hand over the gold that he’s suspected of having stashed at his home, and the Japanese leave the family with a severe ultimatum. Romualdo realizes he needs to seek the help of the Americans if he hopes to get his family out of this situation. However, his wife’s mysterious illness continues to worsen, and she’s weakening by the day. Likewise, their food supplies have almost run out, and the children are having to go to bed with growling stomachs on most nights.
With Romualdo gone to ask for help from anyone who might get his family out of this quagmire, the duty falls on the ailing Ligaya to keep her family safe. Their stay-at-home maid, Amor, isn’t much help because she can’t take care of the kids, Tala and her brother Bayani. One day, the kids go out into the woods, realizing the food at home is almost gone, and Tala is suspicious that their father might no longer be alive. With Ligaya too sick to get out of bed, it’s the big sister who needs to look for a way out. Deep in the woods, Tala encounters a hut, covered with brambles on the outside, and with stained glass windows. Inside, on a table, there’s a toffee on a napkin, and she decided to unwrap and chew it. Immediately afterwards, she’s visited by an entity dressed as a fairy, with her face covered by what looks like headgear made of insect wings. She asks Tala what she would need from the fairy, and the little girl beseeches her to save Ligaya from her illness. Promising that only those with “untainted hearts” can find the fairy of the woods, the entity gives Tala a strange jar with a cicada inside.
Meanwhile, Bayani starts running through the woods, having seen something strange, until he comes across a ditch where he finds rotting bodies. Amor arrives and brings the children home, and that night Tala releases the cicada near Ligaya, which immediately goes inside her mouth. Her mother sits up straight and unleashes a freakish tongue, making Tala flee to her room. Soon afterwards, she starts noticing something strange in her mother, and Ligaya develops a taste for flesh because she ends up devouring the family dog. By now, it’s clear that the fairy was a diabolical entity that preyed on the innocence of the children to win their trust and get them to do a deal. Once the cicada is released, it burrows into the victim’s body and starts eating from within, making the victim crave flesh. After burying the dog in the garden, Tala goes to the fairy to request food, and she uncovers an entire feast of the most delicious foods Tala has ever seen.
Tala brings back the food for her brother, but Bayani refuses the food. She takes it to Ligaya, but by then, she’s not human anymore, and Tala has to lock her mother in the bedroom. Later, she finds a worker named Antonio pressurizing Amor to divulge where Romualdo had stashed the gold, and then he chases Tala and Bayani into the living room, where he shoots her younger brother in the stomach. With Bayani bleeding out, Antonio demands to know where the gold is, and Tala hands him the keys to her mother’s bedroom. Tala pleads with Amor to help Bayani, but she says she’s tired of looking at the children’s faces and she wishes they’d died. Tala goes upstairs to find Amor crawling out, bleeding from the neck, and inside her mother’s bedroom, Tala finds Ligaya eating the flesh of a deceased Antonio. The young girl freaks out and rushes into her bedroom, where the fairy appears and asks her what she wants. Tala wants everything to go back to being as it were, and the fairy offers a glowing fruit. However, realizing that the fairy is a monster, she refuses the offer, and the real, grotesque face of the entity is revealed. Tala finds Bayani’s decapitated head later on, and she screams in terror, finding herself completely alone. Does Tala survive the ordeal, or does the fairy claim her life as well in her attempt to add more and more souls to the list of her victims? Watch In My Mother’s Skin for more answers.
Dagatan’s latest folk horror is an amalgamation of the devastations that wars bring and how the innocence of childhood can be corrupted. The movie shows how Tala mistakes an entity dressed as a fairy for something holy because she looks similar to the idol of Mother Mary that Tara’s family prayed to. Driven by desperation and severe hunger in her family, Tala seeks help from a very suspicious woman dressed in otherworldly attire. The cicadas that eat flesh and turn victims into zombies serve as an allegory for how heartless and inhumane people become during wars. The movie opens with people saying that a baby had been bayoneted in the capital city, showing the extreme absence of empathy and morality in people. They can thus be equated to the cicadas that eat flesh, or Ligaya, who becomes almost similar to those insects.
In My Mother’s Skin has everything that horror movies should aspire to be: sufficient atmospheric horror, gory and disturbing imagery, and an overall lack of jump scares. Instead of slow build-up, there’s already a sense of impending doom in the movie right from the beginning, and the gloomy, dimly lit scenario expresses how there’s a lack of hope and positivity in the lives of the family. Light is equated with purity, and thus the darkness showcases how the children and Ligaya suffer in the corruption left by her husband’s wake.
With a crisp script and a short runtime, In My Mother’s Skin doesn’t feel like a drag, and neither does it fall too short. The open-ended conclusion leaves the audience to form their own theories while leaving them significantly impacted by the movie. Even if it does not feel extremely terrifying, it does leave you feeling disturbed and is a big reminder that when the mind is weak, that’s when the evil entities creep in. Overall, this folk horror from the Philippines is something you should definitely check out this weekend.