In Focus: Pwera Usog

As someone who’d been consistently nauusog in his early years, I don’t doubt that usog exists. It’s difficult to explain in layman’s terms, but it happens when someone fixates on you and sucks the life force out in the process. It then leads to bouts of vomiting and overall fatigue. To find out a horror movie has actually been produced about usog is simply intriguing, to say the least.

Jean (Sofia Andres) is a rebellious, angsty Millennial cum YouTube star famous for pranking people with her friends Bobby (Albie Casino) and Val (Cherise Castro). In a prank gone horribly wrong, they end up presumably leading homeless teen Luna (Devon Seron) to her death. The three friends then get haunted by strange nightmares and visions, and Jean takes it upon herself to unravel the mystery behind her victim, with the aid of ex boyfriend Sherwin (Joseph Marco).

There seems to be a tonal change in the film that divides it into two halves, bordered by the introduction of Eula Valdez’s character Catalina. In the first half, it was being set up as a conventional Asian horror flick, complete with jump scares and elaborate death scenes. The second half, on the other hand, begins to play around more with tropes, similar to comedy-infused horror films Regal Films is famous for. There are outrageous super powers, some version of teleportation, a “getting ready for battle” montage, and even fight scenes set in a different dimension. It’s self-aware and irreverent, which is all good fun!

Having seen Mercury Is Mine and 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten, Jason Paul Laxamana seems to intentionally structure his films with a subtler first half and a more eccentric second half, with the effect of subverting the audience’s expectations. It worked well for these two titles mentioned but not exactly for Pwera Usog.

The latter half emerges as the superior portion of the movie, and it would have been better off for the film to have fully embraced the campiness of it all right from the start. Because of this hesitation to go all out, the movie suffers overall. Jean, for example, had a personality change – and even speaks very differently – across the two sections of the movie. Sherwin began as a more grounded character that became much more slapstick in the end. Even Val ended up being nonexistent in the latter parts.

Nonetheless, it’s still a pretty watchable film, with a cast who is game enough to embrace its sillier parts. Special mention to Aiko Melendez as a faith healer set on helping out the twins. The visual effects are on point as well and lends to an overall polished look.

Those coming in for scares many not get what they came for, barring a few disturbing scenes, but Pwera Usog is a fun popcorn flick… but only half the time.

Random notes (SPOILERS BELOW)

  • How did the film build on usog to make it scarier? Instantaneous effect. Bloody vomits. Demons and spirits causing usog. But it’s true that usog can’t be diagnosed or cured by medicine.
  • Jean is such an unlikable character, but it’s fine with me if it was sustained that way throughout the movie. She would have become an unconventional horror heroine if it were somehow pulled off.
  • So many questions about Luna. Does being possessed by Catalina also imbue Luna with super healing powers? How did Luna manage to live possessed for at least a decade? Why didn’t Catalina let go of Luna when she grew up? Why didn’t she suck the youth out of Luna early on? Not sure as well as to why Quintin (Kiko Estrada) never managed to encounter Luna all those times.
  • The film suffers from a bad teaser – I remember seeing it last year in Cinemalaya and it was mainly the teens singing “Basta may alak, may balak.”

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