Star Cinema’s “The Ghost Bride” barely escapes the confines of traditional Filipino horror, but Chito Roño navigates the formula with distinctive rigor and artistry to come up with sufficiently effective scares. Largely, the film’s often striving narrative relies on visual aesthetics to make its scary motives work, but a surprisingly appealing strangeness enforces the creeps in this Kim Chiu-solo starrer.
Narrating the story of Mayen (Chiu), the film recreates an ancient Chinese tradition called ‘ghost wedding’, with Chiu playing the role of the titular ‘Ghost Bride’. As her parents’ business falls on the verge of collapse, Mayen takes the responsibility of saving her family.
A strange lady named Angie Lao, or simply the ‘Match Maker’ (Alice Dixon), conveniently appears with an equally strange proposition: a ghost wedding, where Mayen will be made to marry a dead man, in exchange for a good fortune. The convenience in Lao’s arrival is ominous enough for Mayen to hesitate, but with all the financial and emotional pressures given to her by her family’s situation, she eventually accepts the offer, not fully realizing the consequences lying ahead.
Soon enough, supernatural events throws Mayen’s life in a chaotic swirl. The run of the proceedings from this point practically gets stretched into threads of just violent sequences. Roño mixes mayhem with visual flair to conjure up a dreadful tone, creating a genuine tension through his elaborate hype of the script’s main sources of terror. As expected, the tension here gets magnified by Roño’s choice to treat its strange aesthetics as a visual extravaganza.
Such choice provides the narrative some palpable force to deliver edge-of-seat jolts, but it largely fails to make the story create an effective resolution and a climactic thrust. Nevertheless, the director’s nearly-flawless attention to details brings the fragments of this formulaic horror to a compelling mold, enough to serve its purpose, which is to make the audience either lean forward or hold onto the edge of their seats.
Like in most of his horror flicks in the past, Roño embraces the familial element of his narrative and utilizes it fully to integrate drama with horror. The motivations of his main character, Mayen, is family, and while that does not necessarily equips the story with sensible balance between horror and drama, it makes one complement the other to arrive to a more interesting result.
Kim Chiu, here, has the burden to get the piercing sentiment of the film across while tying to keep the terrifying tension of the sequences, alive, and she does it flawlessly. Chiu succeeds at relating Mayen’s plight to the audience, transforming the character into a visceral element in a film whose primary intent is to bring spine-tingling scares. Such motive is hardly realized towards the end of the film, but the effort to get it across comes out enough to keep the story’s overall direction from getting derailed.
Kim Chiu proves to be an incredibly capable dramatic actress as she maneuvers the character with all the grace and fragility it requires. Dixon mostly struggles to make the threat of her character felt, being evidently undermined by her character’s fake chinese accent which mostly tends to be more funny rather than scary.
Notwithstanding the flaws, ‘The Ghost Bride’ turns out to be an effective horror movie, its merits largely based on Roño’s stylistic manipulation of his film’s dread-stricken proceedings, and some sense of pacing he employed to allow the fright to thrive in the dark tone of the narrative. This creates some strangeness that is mostly just alluring at first contact, but eventually packs some thrilling punches that inevitably surprise the audience when they’re not paying attention.