Review: Rico Maria Ilarde's PRIDYIDER (THE FRIDGE)

The first few scenes of Rico Maria Ilarde's Pridyider immediately reveal a particular milieu that is far removed from the real and the mundane. Tina Benitez (Andi Eigenmann) is first seen aboard a flight back to the Philippines. She is sleeping, dreaming a horrid dream. She immediately wakes up, prompting her seatmate, an amiable old woman who is finally returning to the Philippines from a thirty-year absence, to talk to her, mouthing cryptic statements about looking back to where you came from. She takes a cab driven ominously by Ilarde-regular and frequently used character actor Raul Morit to her new home. A heated discussion on the display of depraved violence in Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay (2009) is heard from the radio. Tina, tired from her trip and unready to be bombarded by third world concerns, politely asks her cab driver to turn the radio off. There is just no room for the grime and guilt of reality in Tina's story. Her story is one that can only happen in the twisted and more than slightly offbeat world of Ilarde.

Ilarde carefully lays the foundation of his world. Its oddball residents are all mutations of some archetype or stereotype. Tina is the damsel-in-distress, devoured by a mission to discover her family's history. There is also her knight-in-shining armor (JM de Guzman), a former childhood sweetheart she re-establishes a romance with. The other characters are there to fill a particular role within the confines of Ilarde's modern fable. The plot itself follows a familiar pattern.

In a way, the predictability of the film's plot and characters is borne not out of laziness but of Ilarde's obsession with the genre, an obsession to elevate it without breaking or betraying its time-tested rules. After all, the best of Ilarde's works, his two indie-charmers Sa Ilalim ng Cogon (Beneath the Cogon, 2005) and Altar (2007) seem to be films created from the same vein, with characters facing similar moral and physical obstructions, inching their way to some sort of redemption.

Pridyider, perhaps owing to its commercial studio backing, is more fleeting in theme, with characters that are less subjugated to moral and spiritual uncertainties. Tina's motivations are trite at best, nothing as life-threatening or soul-shattering as Ilarde's previous protagonists. She is mostly passive, urged only to action when it becomes apparent that her most used appliance has some murderous intent. Ilarde is clearly more enamoured by his inanimate villain, establishing a back story that involves more complex human emotions such as jealousy as vengefulness.

It is inevitable but useless to compare Ilarde's Pridyider with Ishmael Bernal's, the middle episode of the very first Shake, Rattle and Roll (1984) movie. Bernal's version had a sinister refrigerator charged with sexual frustrations, feeding off the heat-drenched lustful repressions of its new victims. Ilarde's re-imagining avoids giving the appliance human qualities. It is otherworldly and evil, a manifestation of human distortion instead of a crooked human quality, designed to be utterly reprehensible with various innards, taunting severed heads, and vicious other body parts that inflict harm without respect to relationships. If the biggest threat to the peace of the world is far from human and something innately evil, the proper remedy to that threat is not something within the grasp of human logic or reason, but something particularly Catholic, symbolic and outrageous.

Ilarde filters much of the clutter from the genre and stubbornly goes back to the basics of horror, notwithstanding the fact that his audience clamours for twists and lousy sophistication. He represents that peculiar branch of horror that never swayed to the demands of the evolving market, that refused to follow the movement towards fake subtlety and vapid seriousness, that remained true to Lovecraftian weirdness and the many possibilities of horror it provides if localized and molded to suit the Philippine setting. He and his films will predictably be misunderstood. Despite that, he'll predictably make the same films over and over. Pridyider is proof that there's room in this mainstreamed household of repetitive romances and schlocky shockers for his entertaining eccentricities.

(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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