PH episode of HBO’s ‘Folklore’ taps into the human aspect of fear

Erik Matti on the “Folklore” set

Erik Matti’s earliest encounter with folk healing and “kulam” happened when he was about 11 years old.

His sister often had stomachaches, Matti recalled, and doctors were at a loss about what was causing it. Desperate for answers, his mother sought help from an “albularyo,” or “surhano” in his native Bacolod.

“The surhano touched my sister’s tummy, then he told us that there was something wrong with the mango tree behind our house. He went to the tree and collected a piece of bark, which he placed on top of my sister’s stomach. And then, right before my eyes, small cockroaches started coming out of her tummy,” he related.

It was so long ago that he couldn’t remember all the details about how it unfolded. And looking back now, he’s not even sure if he still believes it.

Scene from“7 Days of Hell”

Supernatural forces

But regardless of whether it was true or not, that moment remained stuck in Matti’s memory after all these years. And it would end up inspiring one of his latest projects for television, “7 Days of Hell”—one of the six episodes of HBO Asia’s horror anthology, “Folklore,” which is currently on its second season.

Directed by Matti and written by Michiko Yamamoto, the series follows Lourdes (Dolly de Leon), a police officer racing against time, as she tries to save her son, Eugene (Roshson Barman), from an inexplicable illness. She’s told that her son’s condition was caused by supernatural forces and that his survival depends on the forgiveness of an aggrieved sorcerer.

The story also aims to make a distinction between folk healers and witchcraft practitioners (“mangkukulam” or “mambabarang”). While both rely on rituals and mystical connections to the natural and supernatural, the former’s powers are used for relieving paranormal afflictions; the latter, for casting curses and inflicting harm.

As a hardened woman driven by logic and whose job depends on facts and evidence, Lourdes finds her predicament difficult to accept. Her desperation, however, forces her to accept something she can’t make sense of.

“As a filmmaker, it has gotten tough to make films that could trigger suspension of disbelief, or outlandish horror stories with monsters or spirits … We chose “pangkukulam” because it’s close to reality, but still quite mysterious. There are some people who are inclined to believe it without seeking scientific understanding,” Matti said in a virtual conference.

Because “Folklore” is a collection of stories from different countries, including Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan, the creative team behind “7 Days of Hell” wanted to come up with a theme that Filipino viewers can easily relate to, but also universal enough for foreign audiences.

“Pangkukulam is something some of us in the Philippines believe in, so the story feels like it can happen,” Dolly said. “Our country has a colorful culture. This story is based on the well-known Philippine folklore of pangkukulam, which is scary and interesting … There’s also a focus on family, which, I feel, is very Filipino,” added Mon Confiado, who plays Jong, Lourdes’ friend and fellow police officer.

In terms of mood, Matti focused more on creating a sense of dread that pervades the entire episode, instead of choreographing a singular scary moment. “It’s about how fear could build from something you don’t really understand—the unknowns fuel the fear,” he said.

Dolly de Leon

Journey into the morbid

There’s no reliance on jump scares, either. “The whole tone is creepy. It’s not about shocking you … The whole experience itself is scary. The journey into the morbid and unknown will affect your psyche,” Dolly added.

More than the supernatural elements, there’s also focus on the human aspect of fear. Can real life be as scary, if not scarier, than the supernatural ? That’s also a question the episode attempts to answer.

“When the characters are confronted with something they can’t explain, they begin thinking that maybe, this really is the work of a supernatural being. It’s interesting how they start veering away from evidence or facts and into the illogical. They start to rely on gut instinct and intuition,” he said.

“It’s about navigating a world of people with twisted values … about surviving and making sense of everything, despite people’s corruption,” she said. “Aside from the elementals, it’s the people who also cause the conflicts. And that’s scarier to me.”“7 Days Of Hell” premieres exclusively on HBO and the HBO Go apps and website (https://www.hbogoasia.com) on Dec. 5.

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