For more than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has left us all feeling overwhelmed. It made us go through a bunch of bizarre events: high death rates, infections, social distancing, isolation, and lockdowns. Seems like a plot straight out of a horror movie, isn’t it?
Thus, filmmakers have used this unprecedented time as a source of story prompts. They then gave birth to the new horror sub-genre called ‘quarantine horror’ or ‘quar-horror’, which consists of films that intentionally reflect our current fears and anxieties.
Quar-horror films are now emerging in the Philippines with acclaimed director Erik Matti’s Rabid. Paying homage to the Shake, Rattle & Roll franchise, Rabid is a four-part horror anthology film that depicts the twisted reality of the New Normal.
Each episode is intriguing in its own way, and the brief timeframe ensures that none of them outstays their welcome. Though there are a few standout segments, the whole anthology is tightly written, highlighting an intensified version of the pandemic that is already terrifying enough.
“Kami lang ba pwede malasin?”
Let’s get this straight: inviting guests you don’t live with amid a raging pandemic is NOT the best idea. Some people, however, would still do it nonetheless as if they don’t feel at risk. Sure, it may be an act of kindness, but at what cost if you have no idea what the stranger’s real motives are?
Mayette (Chesca Diaz), a mother of a wealthy family, did the same thing when she accepted a seemingly deaf and mute grandmother (Jay Glorioso) into their home. Soon enough, her life, as well as the lives of her husband Carlo (Jake Macapagal) and daughter Lizzie (Ameera Johara), got caught up in a paradox. It’s only Dexter (Kent Gonzales), the faith healer’s son and Lizzie’s lover, who could help them escape.
With its gloomy atmosphere and disturbing imagery, this home invasion-family horror episode has set the tone for what’s to come. It also discovered a way to combine the traditional horror elements with the New Normal. Despite the film’s focus on dark humor, Matti still managed to slip a social commentary in between the scenes and dialogue. Glorioso’s performance as a lonesome beggar into a supernatural entity is delightful to watch.
“Iba pa din ang karne”
If you’re taking care of someone during these trying times, then the second episode would hit you close to home. Melvin (Vince Larena) had to go the extra mile for his wife Jane (Pam Gonzales), who appears to have turned into a zombie. He forces her to eat vegetables, specifically peas and carrots, in the hopes of restoring her normalcy. Yet, the depressing part is that we all know it’s already impossible.
This two-handed black and white film deepens the bleakness of isolation with its inky shadows and light. The atmospheric setting lingers a sense of claustrophobia, adding an uneasy intimacy between the two characters. It focuses our attention directly on Larena and Gonzales’ convincing portrayal of a romantic but tragic couple on-screen. Moreover, the segment fulfilled the sentimental horror-drama genre despite having a short and simple narrative.
With medical workers being hailed as heroes of the global crisis, featuring a slacker nurse in the anthology is a great chance for Matti to unleash another mayhem. The graveyard shift becomes a living nightmare for Becky (Ayeesha Cervantes) as she idly assists her patient Luzviminda (Ube Lola) in Room 207. Meanwhile, her fellow nurse Reggie (Ricci Rivero) and her boyfriend Walter (Brace Arquiza) try to get her out of the darkest seams of the hospital.
Given the poor and incompetent healthcare system, we can’t blame Becky for despising her job– and even applying for a visa to flee from her dreary condition. In this context, Matti allowed himself to express some serious points in the guise of a satirical nightmare. Work sucks when it has lost all meaning; however, Becky’s behavior is still far from being likable.
Some horror films are kind to naïve viewers who have no idea about what they will get. “Shit happens” is a perfect example since it clearly describes what the film is about. It may be unbearable to watch at first, but once you get used to its filth, it becomes hysterically funny in its own peculiar manner. This episode rushes to its absurd comic finale while going all the way to the extreme. Matti’s use of color tones to portray what’s real or not is also worth appreciating.
Losing a job might be one of life’s biggest obstacles, especially now that the pandemic is in full swing. It pushes you out of your comfort zone as you’ll no longer have a steady source of income to cover your expenses. Thus, “desperate times call for desperate measures,” and Matti took it to a whole new level in this last episode.
Our lives resemble the situation of Princess (Donna Cariaga) in the way she manages her daily life in a time of crisis. Princess is a single mother who has been laid off from work and is making ends meet for her son Nico (Ynigo Delen). After being rejected from so many jobs, she attempts to open an online food business without any culinary experience. But then, her kare-kare becomes phenomenal when she discovers a secret ingredient through a pop-up ad.
“HM?“ is the most realistic out of all four episodes. It operates at a slow pace, gradually building up to a frenzied climax. This segment’s digital production leaves the best impact as it blends the online interface into the real world. From the intense performances by the cast to the editing and sound design, every element is top-notch. It serves as a perfect conclusion to the entire anthology, making the viewing experience worthwhile.
Erik Matti sure has a knack for instilling horror in the deepest recesses of our minds. It is a kind of horror that will leave us thinking for days and reflecting on our actions. It is also remarkable to witness what he has accomplished at the height of quarantine, with ample resources available. Thanks to Rabid, Filipinos are starting to recognize quar-horror as an innovative sub-genre based on a collective experience.
Rabid is now available to stream via Upstream PH.
Alyssa Ross Jorta is a rare and unknown celestial being that believes in the beauty of everything. She sees beauty and happiness in the most trivial things, whether from the sweet aroma of coffee or from a warm embrace of her blanket– and as much as possible, she wants to capture those moments to remember them timelessly.