Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Directed by Topel Lee
Starring Robin Padilla, Rhian Ramos, Sunshine Dizon

You can feel the cold creeping in and squeezing your windpipes. You are Louella (Sunshine Dizon) getting soaked in the rain, shoes sticky with mud, as you watch your father's skeleton stumble out of its coffin clumsily dropped by cemetery caretakers. You are Baguio, sprawling, eternally cold and gray like a blanket hiding a corpse.

Director Topel Lee and cinematographer J. A. Tadena transform the usually cheery Baguio into a brooding, opaque hell where houses seem to shiver in the cold. Bathed in muted palettes of browns and steel, the fluorescent light seems alien, a fragile glow that the dark is hungry to devour, while the ghosts, ang mga sundo, lurk in the mist-like shadows.

The noun "sundo" has no direct English translation: it is a person---a close relative, a sweetheart---who picks you up from school or work with the specific purpose of making sure you get home safely, ie. My sundo (boyfriend or parent) has arrived. As a verb, sundo means to pick someone up (from school or work). In the movie, Romano (Robin Padilla) sees dead people, but these are ghosts with a mission, to be the sundo, the guide of the dying from this life to the after life. In effect, every appearance of a ghost is an omen of death.

Romano and childhood friend Louella drive down to the city with his sister, the blind Isabel (Rhian Ramos), to find a cure for her ailment, along with a few companions. Romano dreams about an accident that kills them all but wakes up in time to prevent it from happening. He suddenly hears a baby crying and as he steps out of the vehicle, he realizes that they are surrounded by ghosts. They were meant to die and now their sundo have arrived.

Sundo is a movie severely split in two. The first half is moody, atmospheric, and genuinely dead cold; its claustrophobic static can be felt at the back of the neck. The second half, which begins right after the should-have-been accident, is commercial Hollywood that is too reminscent of Final Destination.

What a damn shame.

There could be higher forces at work here and Lee does his best to keep the brooding tone, but the gimicky accidents (being blinded by flying embers from your favorite isaw stand) are laughably scripted and clumsily executed with not enough B-movie gusto that they turn out flat. And boring.

There's a twist in the movie's last few minutes that almost saves the movie from predictability but it is carried out in exactly the same way that Ouija (Topel's previous horror genre effort) ended, with someone being pulled into the darkness.

Is it just me or was that last echoing scream a cry of frustration?


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