Pwera Usog is about Jean (Sofia Andres), who produces online prank videos with her friends (Albie Casiño and Cherise Castro). They, along with Jean’s ex-boyfriend Sherwin (Joseph Marco), go on an out of town trip one day, where they encounter a homeless woman in an abandoned building. They play a prank on her that goes horribly wrong, their victim reacting violently and then falling off the roof. Bizarrely, the woman’s body disappears. Then, these young people start encountering all manner of strangeness. Some of them fall victim to a mysterious affliction that seems to stem from their encounters with the supernatural.It is around this point that the movie takes a turn. Jean actually becomes a bit of a tangential character, as the story gets into the arc that really matters in the end. The focus shifts from the fate of Jean and her friends to the efforts of a pair of albularyos to save a young woman possessed by a malevolent spirit. In fact, it becomes a little weird that Jean is still around at all, her involvement in the events of the last half of the film coming off pretty forced at best. The film has some interesting directorial touches, but the structure of the overall narrative is pretty tough to swallow.So the film invests a good chunk of its time in sketching out the specifics of Jean’s situation. She is a young woman from an affluent family. She has a bad relationship with her father, who is always away on business. She is apparently able to support herself financially through her online videos, and she is very sensitive to how people online perceive her. That’s a lot of stuff to sit through, and it’s all placed on the backburner once the film makes its narrative shift. The film makes some loose connections between what’s happening in the story and Jean’s personal journey, but those links are tenuous at best.So what happens is that the film becomes too much about how awful Jean is, and not enough about how she’s changing that. Instead of depicting her journey towards some sort of redemption, the film basically puts her in the sidelines and lets other characters take focus. The film pins its eventual resolution on her, and has her take center stage again in the denouement. But none of that is earned. The characters later introduced are also underserved by this structure. They may have become the protagonists, but there is investment in what they’re doing since they entered the story so late.The film is at its best when things get weird. The scares are fairly rudimentary, largely involving the sudden appearance of something behind something else. But there are a couple of wackier sequences involving bodily fluids that show off a fairly wicked sense of humor. The performances are a little weird, perhaps owing to the unusual structure. Sofia Andres never really gets the time to show the growth of her character, and Joseph Marco is basically relegated to comic relief at some point. Koko Estrada and Aiko Melendez, without the benefit of proper set up, are mostly stuck playing one note.Pwera Usog feels like at least two movies awkwardly cobbled together. There is a movie here about YouTube pranksters getting their just desserts from a supernatural force, and there is a movie about albularyos having to deal with an evil that they’ve ignored for two long. There are merits to either one, but few of them survive in this mashup of narratives. There are a couple of thrilling moments that somewhat recall the sensibilities of Sam Raimi, but as a whole, the film feels pretty clunky.
PWERA USOG IS NOW PLAYING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.