Kenneth Dagatan’s Sundance feature In My Mother’s Skin may not be the most frightening horror film, but if your tastes veer more towards savage takedowns of wealthy complicity, it might be exactly your jam.
There’s certainly an embarrassment of riches for dark supernatural forces in the affluent splendor of an isolated mansion in the Philippines of 1945, where the young Tala (Felicity Kyle Napuli) and her family are hanging on by a thread. Rumors abound that her father has stolen Japanese gold, and her complicit countrymen are sniffing around, armed and eager for their share.
To save his family, Aldo departs to find help, leaving his ailing wife Ligaya (Beauty Gonzalez), daughter Tala, and her brother Bayani (James Mavie Estrella) to fend for themselves.
All those childhood terrors that crawl right out of the shadowy corners of your bedroom tend to become very real when the enemy can come into your home and all the adults are terrified too. As her mother’s condition worsens and their food supply dwindles, Tala’s desperation grows, and it’s hard to blame or accuse her of stupidity when she decides to trust a fairy (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) she meets in the woods who claims she’s able to cure her mother’s illness.
This is a supernatural entity who also hardly appears as a monster with a craving for human flesh given the colorful costume and her insect wing headdress, which even bears a resemblance to the Virgin Mary statue the family prays to. Chances are any one of us would’ve clung to the hope of our mother’s recovery and done the same, but once Ligaya starts up with the contortions, insectoid tongue, and develops a few cravings of her own, Tala wises up quickly to the fact that she placed her faith in the wrong entity.
The ensuing events have little to do with the greater themes of light and faith that were sown so well in the movie’s opening stretch, with little of the coherence of other films which see children grappling with unspeakable adult horrors, such as Pan’s Labyrinth.
But it has moments where it makes the most of the themes which flit randomly across the screen, with very non-supernatural forces proving to be the real threat to the family unit. They are the reason that any comparisons to Hansel and Gretel are swept away, much like Ligaya’s increasing disassociation from her humanity.
The real highlights are the performances, with Gonzalez, and especially Napuli proving to be the movie’s human standouts, while the lush, often moonlit setting and haunting musical score, which incorporates the cry of cicadas into a horror soundtrack all its own, providing chilling backup to the wartime horrors. The journey is far too episodic to form a cohesive whole, but it’s certainly enough to worm its way under your skin.
Rating: 7/10 SPECS
In My Mother's Skin was acquired by Amazon Studios and will debut on Prime Video later this year.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Andrea Thompson is a writer, editor, and film critic who is also the founder and director of the Film Girl Film Festival.
She is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics and runs her own site, A Reel Of One's Own, and has written for RogerEbert.com, The Spool, The Mary Sue, Inverse, and The Chicago Reader. She has no intention of becoming any less obsessed with cinema, comics, or nerdom in general.