In Focus: Otlum

Otlum had its fair share of controversy prior to it even reaching the silver screen. It bumped off Brillante Mendoza’s Alpha: The Right To Kill from the Magic 8 and stands as the only entry to not be graded by the Cinema Evaluation Board. Unfortunately, seeing the final material somehow validates these criticisms.

Fred (Buboy Villar) is constantly ridiculed and bullied at school and even by his friends and family. Wanting to belong, he tries to join Allan’s (Jerome Ponce) clique of cool kids. To prove his loyalty, he is made to endure one night at an abandoned orphanage with a dark past and supernatural presence.

There is potential in crafting a redemption story of a trodden lead who emerges victorious. We’ve seen these tales in cult classics The Evil Dead (1981), The Last House On The Left (2009), and I Spit On Your Grave (2010). We don’t even have to look far and can take inspiration from this year’s breakout Pinoy film Buy Bust. Otlum on the other hand makes its lead do the unthinkable just for him to exact revenge. While his whole predicament is indeed tragic (and heavily built up as such in earlier scenes), it still doesn’t warrant enough justification for a choice so immutable.

At the very least, after what he went through, they could have given Fred a satisfying payoff, but his rampage is nothing but a series of uninspired kills. What’s worse is that Allan’s posse is so despicable that their eventual deaths are hardly a surprise – and it’s not like we care at all for any of them to survive. It makes watching the second half of the film feel like a chore.

There’s also the subplot of the orphanage that doesn’t tie well with the main conflict. It could have been any other ghost or any other generic premise and it still wouldn’t make a difference. I’m baffled why this group of dumb kids thought that a showdown with the ghost priest – who doesn’t have a sliver of connection to them whatsoever – will resolve their issue with Fred. That’s one big obvious red herring.

If you add irrational characters to unimaginative death scenes and a half-baked story, you end up with a dud. All things considered, Otlum is harmless, but there lies the problem. It doesn’t have anything that’s worth a movie ticket.

Directed by: Joven Tan
Starring: Jerome Ponce, Ricci Rivero, Buboy Villar, John Estrada, Michelle Vito, Vitto Marquez, Danzel Fernandez

Random notes (SPOILERS BELOW)

  • I know they’re building up Dindo (Ricci Rivero) to be the good guy, but he’s just too passive and allows bad things to happen. Is it that hard to warn Fred? Sin of omission, dude.
  • Kiray Celis, despite being prominently promoted, is so detached from the goings on and barely appears in the movie.
  • It’s funny how the group almost always comes to the orphanage at night.
  • Is the orphanage open to the public? People seem to have an easy time getting in.
  • With all the false statements Allan and friends gave, it would have been so easy for Fred’s mom to implicate them in her son’s death.

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