Water Spirit and Possession: Thoughts on Ilawod

Horror films are divided into subgenres. There’s psychological horror – Patayin Sa Sindak Si Barbara (1995), comedy-horror – D’ Anothers (2005) and found footage horror film – Darkroom (2017). Sometimes these subgenres overlap which I think makes the film more interesting. A great example is Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles, a 2012 Filipino action horror comedy adventure film written and directed by Erik Matti.

Early this year I found another. It’s actually a Filipino independent supernatural horror film. But while I was watching the film, I discovered and saw the beauty of three horror subgenres in one.

Directed by Dan Villegas

Ilawod is the story of a family’s breakdown in the midst of a demonic attack. Dennis, a reporter, accidentally invites the ilawod–the elemental of water that flows downstream–into his home, where it latches onto his young son, Ben. What follows is a battle for not just the family’s lives, but their souls as well.

Ang ILAWOD o downstream ay ang pababang agos ng tubig. Ilaya ang pataas, ilawod ang pababa.

ILAWOD is director Dan Villegas’ first foray into the horror genre. Direk Dan initially wanted a demonic possession but after some brainstorming sessions with scriptwriter Yvette Tan, they finally settled on “a family plagued by a water elemental spirit.” With the help of director Antoinette Jadaone (Villegas’ girlfriend), their monster was named.

Ilawod or downstream is the opposite of ilaya or upstream. This word may be unfamiliar but it is creepy and intriguing enough. Just think of reports about mysterious or “unexplained” drowning. People who survived such incident say that a force tried to drag them down.

With a menacing water elemental spirit like that, Dan Villegas’ Ilawod is clearly a supernatural horror. But that is not all! I found two subgenres – psychological and drama horror which pulled me even more.

First, it is worth mentioning that Therese Malvar’s performance as the water elemental is so absorbing. Her first target in the family was the young son, Ben played by Harvey Bautista. She attacked Ben psychologically which I found beautiful.

On the side, the Ilawod also manifested to Bea the youngest child played by Xyriel Manabat, Kathy the mother played by Iza Calzado and Dennis the father played by Ian Veneracion. But as the elemental got deep into Ben’s head, the family’s world turned upside down.

The execution was very dramatic. The emotion heightened when the mom found out what happened to her son. As the father, Dennis did everything he could. Unfortunately, the family’s bond has been over taken. Thus, the elemental won.

The supernatural element, psychological attack and dramatic scenes might not be a good horror combination for some. But there are times you won’t need horrific images to make you scared. The mind is very powerful and Ilawod played with that.

Moreover, it also makes you question why the elemental chose Dennis’ family. Was it because he made eye contact during the exorcism scene? Or, because he has a great family with a bond that’s so tempting to break.

In conclusion, director Dan Villegas’ Ilawod is a satisfying horror film. If he wants to, he can play with that character in the future. Since there’s not much information, he can treat his new fans with a better understanding of the water spirit. 9/10 IMDb

P.S Yes, this is a late review. I’m sorry but I just didn’t have time. I will be posting more and continuously this time. ^_^

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