Leah C. Salterio – The Philippine Star

February 13, 2022 | 12:00am

Award-winning director Brillante Mendoza purposely kept the ending of his first, full-length horror vehicle, Bahay na Pula, from his lead stars. Even if the actors — Julia Barretto, Xian Lim and Marco Gumabao — have been asking what would happen in the end. Direk Brillante kept all of them guessing.

It has taken direk Brillante nearly a decade to make another horror film. His last one was Sapi, shown in 2013, with Dennis Trillo, Baron Geisler and Meryll Soriano. “Sapi was not an all-out horror,” Brillante clarifies. “It was one of my films distributed and shown abroad. Sapi was frightening, as well.”

Making another horror film like Bahay na Pula, was not easy for Brillante. “Gusto ko, may background ang story, not just to scare the viewers,” he says. “Hindi ako masyadong comfortable sa horror films.”

Brillante’s Tirador or Slingshot won the Calgari Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2007. Captive competed in the same festival in 2012. Brillante earlier won the award as Best Director for Kinatay at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in 2009.

Bahay na Pula is Brillante’s third project for Vivamax after Palitan last year and the more recent Sisid.

“The post-production involved to make Bahay na Pula was scary,” Brillante states. “I needed to convince myself that it was not just the script that’s interesting about the film. So far, I’m happy that Bahay na Pula was finally filmed.”

The script had been with Brillante for the past five years now and it was only recently when the project was completed. “Kasi wala pa si Julia, si Marco at si Xian,” he says. “I believe in the right timing. This Bahay na Pula was meant to be streaming this pandemic.”

Brillante is known not to rely on his script for his films. “We really have a script for this project, for every film,” he clarifies. “Of course, the script evolves while you are filming or when the cast gets to the set. It depends what the actors can contribute.

“Also, the location itself. Sometimes, you will see something on the location that is not part of the story, but it is also important. That gets eventually included. Even during the editing, we see other things that we could incorporate that are not part of the original script.”

Brillante’s film projects with Viva started after he talked to Viva Films’ Big Boss, Vic del Rosario. “When you were told there was a formula, the first challenge to me was I didn’t have to conform,” Brillante says. “At the same time, you can also give the requirements of a mainstream project.

“How can you make this genre interesting, not just purely horror? What can you inject that will be something new? The viewers can learn something new and at the same time, won’t feel shortchanged in their expectations that they will also be entertained. So far, wala pa naman akong naging problem sa mga pelikulang ginagawa ko sa Viva.”

Horror is just not Brillante’s comfort zone. “Ang dami ko din insecurities na horror genre ang ginagawa ko,” he explains. “Nanood ako ng mga horror films. I needed to see the technical aspect. Isa ‘yun sa mga challenges ko. ‘Yun ang ginamit kong challenge and at the same time, paano ko magagawa ang gusto ko. So far, masaya ako sa naging experience ko.”

He worked with mostly independent actors in the past. This is his first time to work with Julia, Xian and Marco. “Iba ang feeling ko kasi iba ang pinanggalingan nila,” he points out. “Iba ang gusto nila. I didn’t know how to connect with them. I had to ask myself how they could do the film na maayos. Sana hindi magka-problema. So far, I got the answers to that.

“Kailangan lang magpaka-totoo ka. Not just to yourself, but the artists, the people you are working with. Right away, sa briefing pa lang, sinabi ko na sa kanila, we are staying in a villa by the beach, not a five-star hotel. They knew that right away and there were no complaints made.”

Brillante handpicked Julia to play the female lead in Bahay na Pula. “When we pitched this project to her, we could see that she was excited right away,” he recalled. “You could see that in her eyes, you could sense in her voice. It was exciting to work with all three of them.”

He worked with the Gumabao brothers. Paolo in Sisid and Marco in Bahay na Pula. “Palagi ko silang niloloko. Tinatawag ko si Marco na Pao. Then, I would text Paolo na mas magaling si Marco sa ‘yo. Para hindi sila makatulog (laughs).

“Magka-iba ang kanilang personality, but they are both okay. Magka-iba din ang kanilang atake sa paggawa ng pelikula. Si Paolo, he’s more aggressive. But that doesn’t make Marco less of an actor. Hindi. Depende ‘yan sa roles at sa characters assigned to them. Overall, I enjoyed working with both of them.”

Rising above his insecurity to direct Bahay na Pula, Brillante knew he had to constantly challenge himself. “When you don’t overcome that, you will be the loser,” he insists. “At the end of the day, when you review the images that were shot, it’s important to see if I’m happy. With Bahay na Pula, I am definitely happy.”

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