tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Ang Pagsanib Kay Leah dela Cruz’ is Best When it Remains Mysterious

A deluge of answers leads to a rocky third act in this otherwise compelling horror film.

NBHD movie 3 ticketsAng Pagsanib kay Leah dela Cruz is about police officer Ruth (Sarah Lahbati), who has just moved to a small town from Manila following some incident that occurred in the line of duty. She’s supposed to be taking a break from police work, but she almost immediately gets caught up in the affairs of the Dela Cruz family. Teenage daughter Leah (Shy Carlos) jumped from the window of her second-story of their house following an apparent assault on her nanny. Ruth investigates at the behest of Leah’s boyfriend, and soon uncovers a dark history that may help explain Leah’s erratic behavior.Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 5.10.17 PMAs the movie goes on, it fills in a lot of backstory for the characters. It slowly reveals, for example, the exact circumstances of the incident that caused Ruth to take a break from policework from this town. Ruth’s investigation uncovers details about the sketchy past of Leah’s yaya, which also leads to revelations about a couple of other side characters. There’s also the matter of Leah’s parents, who from pretty early on is portrayed as having some sort of unresolved tension between them. There’s a lot being said in these revelations, but it does feel like the movie is at times straining to fit these details into a cohesive, compelling form.Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 5.09.12 PMThe movie is really good at setting up its mysteries. It sets the tone really well in its early scenes, cutting between scenes that suggest personal trauma through the deliberate application of weirdness. An odd, driving rhythm to the scenes suggest the tensions that exist within the characters. The film makes it really clear that there is just something off about these characters, some strange history that casts a shadow over all their interactions. And it gives weight to the supernatural encounters that follow. These characters aren’t simply confronted by a ghost or a demon; they are grappling with their own personal insecurities.Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 5.12.48 PMBut the deeper the film gets into explaining the stories, the less interesting it becomes. The third act is essentially a mess of revelations set on a metaphysical plane, the ostensible danger of the situation neutered somewhat by an excessive barrage of rapid answers. In theory, this is all needed payoff to everything that the film sets up. But it feels dramatically clumsy at best, with characters suddenly put into a position where they’re explaining the subtext of their struggles while dealing with strange, violent things.Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 5.09.32 PMThe film is much more effective when it concentrates on being creepy. The first two acts find plenty of interesting ways to keep things off-kilter. There’s an extended scene set in a library that offers the kind of chills that stay with you. In general, the movie is really good when it establishes the dimensions of a physical space, and then messes around with what’s possible within that space. Part of what makes the climax so deflating is the lack of physical boundaries, making the subsequent action feel ungrounded. The acting is fine. Sarah Lahbati plays it perhaps a little too restrained, given what the rest of the cast is doing. Shy Carlos seems to really relish taking on the evil side of her role, and she becomes one of the most memorable parts of this movie.Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 5.13.07 PMAng Pagsanib Kay Leah dela Cruz is still pretty clever when all is said and done, even though it isn’t quite able to maintain its momentum all the way through to the end. The film just falls into the trap of trying too hard to solve its mysteries, rather than leaving enough space for the audience to just fill things in. This leads to a rocky third act that just doesn’t feel as satisfying as it really ought to be. Having said that, there are many clear merits to this story, and the spotty end doesn’t undo what has been built up.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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