Seklusyon: Movie Review

  1.  Happy Feast of Epiphany! I wrote this because someone asked for my opinion about watching Seklusyon, an entry in the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival. If you haven’t watched the film yet, do not read yet because this contain spoilers.
  2. I used the word “seklusyon” to refer to the one-week phase that deacons must undergo in the film. I discussed some church doctrines (e.g. teachings about sin and fallen angels) and how the film stirred me (this means a lot of digressions). I’m more of a catechist than a theologian and I am amateur in both disciplines though. Besides, I was just eager to eat my free popcorn (thank you Br. Dean).
  3. The film was set on a post-WWII Philippine period. It starts with a deacon named Miguel. He is seen confessing his sins with a priest. Just before he finishes the confession, the priest asked him whether he still has something more to confess. It seems that he’s keeping some secret to himself. And yes, he keeps an embarrassing secret that we will learn later on when he’s on the secluded house already.
  4. A little bit of doctrine: Non-Catholics (or even Catholics too) might be asking why is there a need to confess one’s sins to a priest. The basic teaching of the Church on sin is that it “separates” one from God, himself, from others. Sin is not just a private matter; it also affects the community. And the Church is one big community. As the representative of this one big community, the Church, the priest is given the authority to hear confessions and absolve sins (i.e. to correct and sinner and reconnect him to the church). The last question of the priest in the film reminded me of un-confessed sins:
    1. sins of omissions (i.e. sins done when he should have done something but didn’t do like ignoring a beggar);
    2. sins that we forget to confess about when we are already in front (or side) of the priest; and,
    3. sins that we deceitfully hide from the priest because we are embarrassed to tell them (which Miguel did).
  5. During a confession, confessee must be mindful of this sins. Otherwise, we are again reenacting what Adam and Eve did when they hid from the Lord in the garden (Gen. 3:8).
  6. I thought that the seklusyon is like the Call of Moses or the Flight of Elijah to Horeb where they were lead to the wilderness and there encounter an angel. But instead of encountering God’s messenger, Miguel and the rest would encounter another kind of “angel”. I almost forgot to mention that Miguel was told by his confessor that the seklusyon is for him to be protected from demons since their attack is at its peak when a deacon is due for ordination. Whether it is a spiritual or physical attack, it was not mentioned how the demons would be able to do that to Miguel.
  7. When Miguel arrives to the secluded house where he would be staying for a week, he asked Sandoval the caretaker why there’s a need to lock the gate. Miguel was told that it’s not to prevent outsiders to enter but rather to prevent the deacons inside from escaping the house. Recalling this dialogue, it made me think that sin is also a “seclusion”. Sin doesn’t only “separate” one from God, himself, and from others; it too “secludes”. Miguel is later joined by other deacons who like him is undergoing the seclusion.
  8. We now encounter a WWII-veteran priest, Ricardo, who investigates a miracle worker, Anghela, and Sister Cecilia. At first, I thought she was a boy because her face looks masculine to me. This girl is seen wearing a “crown”, an allusion that this miracle worker is a fraud. Though she can really heal, her power seems anomalous. And whenever she heals, she vomits a blood-like ooze from her mouth. I will discuss these symbolisms later.
  9. Of all the characters in the film, I can easily relate to the role played by the priest investigator. Just like the priest, I too am a “doubter” of miracle works, faith healers, and private revelations. I am a “revert” to Catholicism. Probably, the investigator was already a priest during the war but I am not too sure of that. He suspects that the Sister was corrupting the poor girl to perform miracles for profit.
  10.  One night, the parents of Anghela were murdered, forcing the poor girl to seek shelter with Cecilia following her. When I saw the dead bodies on the stretchers, I recalled the victims of extrajudicial killings here in the country (I even blurted nanlaban). Maybe that’s just my perception. They are then assigned to seek shelter to the place where the seklusyon is on-going. Sandoval, being a strict caretaker/retreat master, don’t want them to enter as they would interrupt the seklusyon. But since they got an authorization letter from the bishop, Sandoval got not choice but to let them in. Besides, it’s night time.
  11. The priest-investigator goes to the bishop and tell about what he thinks of the miracle worker and the sister helping her. There seems to be an anomaly regarding her healing powers and the shady character of sister. The bishop rebuked Father Ricardo to back off and stay away from them. I was disturbed by this scene. I perceive it as uncharitable and unfraternal. It seems that it happened to me before when I did some investigating myself. You search for the truth but they attack you by asking what’s your intention. When the authority wants to silence you, it seems the reaction is to dig deeper and search further. It’s like investigative journalism, isn’t it? Ricardo then proceeds with his investigation by going to the former convent of Cecilia.
  12. Going back to the seklusyon, Miguel met three fellow deacons during a meal. The caretaker told them that that would be the only time they would talk to each other as the seklusyon needs to be done in silence and prayer. Miguel would then receive paper notes from his fellow deacon’s adjacent room, the message translated as “I cannot take it anymore”. Every night, Miguel would be receiving notes from the other room.
  13. I now notice that it is always dark throughout the film, a hint that gives that this film is a noir instead of a pious or religious film. Or maybe it is just that it is set on the late 1940s.
  14. When they go back to their respective bed quarters, we will see each one haunted by their “inner demons” or their repressed issues in life (Demons by Imagine Dragons plays on my head). Miguel by his ex-girlfriend, Erina; Fabian by his mentally-deranged mother; Carlo by his two younger brothers whom he deprived of food; and Marco by some kids wanting to play with him (a poorly written character, I guess). Their catharsis had “incarnated”. What they have escaped are haunting them.
  15. Miguel probably skipped confessing his previous affair with Erina, whom he got impregnated. On the secluded house, he is now haunted by her when she manifested through the image of the Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Among all the scenes, this shocked and scared me a lot.
  16. True Story: I too had my episodes with my “inner demons” (but not like what happened to the deacons!). Before I entered the novitiate last 2012, the start of religious/consecrated life, my “inner demons” started to haunt me. It seems like I don’t want to continue my vocation as a brother anymore. I wanted to go home. Before I entered the Marist Brothers, I was escaping my restlessness brought by spiritual dryness, the “rat race”, and my brokenheartedness. In other words, want to escape practical atheism, working, and being an N.G.S.B. (No girlfriend since birth). Another reason is that I had this sense of obligation to help my parents retire easily by helping them financially and being present in our house. Talking with my postulancy director, Br. Dem; with Br. Jeff Rhey, my accompaniteur; and with my spiritual directress, Sr. Jenen, O.P., I was assured that what I was going through was normal. It was up to me to decide freely whether to accept the call of becoming a Marist Brother or not. So I wrote my application letter to the Brother Provincial and said I would like to enter the novitiate. This formation stage is the true seclusion. Two years of it, actually. Every year that I renew my vows, I take time to reflect on these previous motivations and my present motivations.
  17. Going back to the film, the silent atmosphere of the seklusyon was interrupted when the two guests arrived. The character of Anghela is now revealed as a trickster and someone who was supernatural powers with her being able to read people’s mind. We now learn that Sandoval was a former priest who was stripped off his sacerdotal ministry. The next day, the caretaker then decides to do “something” he was planning to do for a long time. He now leaves the house and the scared deacons under the care of Anghela and Cecilia.
  18. The priest-investigator, driving with his vintage car, goes to the former community of Cecilia, and received a cold treatment from the mother superior. We are presented with a cynical sister and a helpless bedridden patient. Not wanting to give him directly the answers he is seeking, she cryptically said that he will found out everything he wanted to know about Cecilia on a compiled files of documents she hands out to the priest. She tells him to just read. He then goes to the barrios and probes those whom Anghela had healed. The priest learned later on that these people are already “worshiping” (the term used in the film, not mine) a tree dedicated to Anghela by bringing some flowers as offerings. The scene was like a reenactment of the Israelites worshiping the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-29). Upon learning this sacrilege, the priest-investigator later approaches the bishop to report this.
  19. Of all the characters, I am most curious about Anghela and Cecilia. With her powers, it seems that both or one of them is not a normal human person. With the help of Ricardo’s investigative skills, we now learn that Cecilia was raped during the war and had a burnt scar on her face. It was Anghela who healed her. It was not clear to me how it happened, but all I know was that Cecilia left the convent and joined Anghela in her healing ministry. Anghela has an alter ego named NgaHela (like Smeagol and Gollum of LoTR). I don’t know what it means but it seems evil. Now we know where Anghela got her powers. She is not just a human. She was an angel.
  20. True story: I am fascinated by angels. In fact, I myself have seen an apparition of an angel when I was still a child. I know this is not a make-believe because I was not the only one who saw the angel. I was playing with my cousins and was riding a push cart when we noticed the angel. When I saw the angel, I think I didn’t even know what an angel was. The angel was up there in the sky, using a formation of clouds as corporeal body. It seemed alive though the cloud was slowly fading. I can’t remember how long we stared at the angel. I think we were worn down in looking up before the angel disappeared. I was still in kindergarten that time so the year would be last 1994.
  21. I would quote in full what the New American Bible commentary says about angels:

    Hebrew mal’ak or “messenger” is regularly translated angelos by the Septuagint, from which the English word “angel” is derived, but the Hebrew term lacks connotations now popularly associated with “angel” (such as wings). Although angels frequently assume human form (cf. Gn 1819), the term is also used to indicate the visual form under which God occasionally appeared and spoke to people, referred to indifferently in some Old Testament texts either as God’s “angel,” mal’ak, or as God.

  22. Fallen angels are not angels anymore. To be an angel means to be a messenger of God. Since they have rejected God, a fallen angel is called a devil which means slanderer or the one who hurls. Islam would also believe that fallen angels rebelled against God. The last book of the bible has depicted about this “fall”  (Revelations 12:9, NAB). Jesus too referred to this “fall” when He mentioned to His disciples, “I observed Satan fall like lightning falling from the sky” (Luke 10:18, NAB). How of why they rebelled, that is mystery for me.
  23. Angels are pure spirits. Though they do not have a material body, it is possible for them to manifest in forms which we humans can see. Devils, as fallen angels, are still capable of doing that. Anghela is the manifestation of the Devil in human form.
  24. When Ricardo realizes the true identity of Anghela/NgaHela, he then decides to tell the bishop. They were then interrupted by Sandoval holding a gun and aims at Ricardo. Instead, he shoots the head of the bishop. I am now confused. Why did Sandoval did that? Was is grudge against the bishop? Was it because he wanted Ricardo to quickly solve the matter by killing the bishop and letting Ricardo exorcise the little girl? I think I’m getting the scenes mixed up now. I might need to watch a prequel or director’s cut of this film.
  25. Ricardo now rushes towards the seklusyon area. He now confronts NgaHela by and battles her by performing an exorcism. But she’s too powerful.
  26. From Anghela’s lips, we learn of her longing for a long time to meet Miguel, his father(?). She hugs Miguel tight. Miguel then lets her hug him.
  27. When all of them inside the house realizes the true identity of Anghela and was tempted and lured to trust this girl/devil, they partake into an anti-Eucharistic celebration in the chapel with Anghela as their priestess. This is an anti-Eucharist as it contrasts the self-giving of Jesus (Luke 22:19-20, NAB). NgaHela now draws the deacons to herself by giving them this dark liquid, which effectively lets them become her own servants. The chalice now contains the black ooze which Anghela vomits whenever she heals. She is now wearing the dead bishop’s mitre on her head.
  28. The deacons now drink the cup. When it was Miguel’s turn, he spits up the liquid and runs away from the house. Outside, we see Ricardo’s charred(?) body. He runs further towards the woods, stumbled, and hit his head on a big rock.
  29. The next scenes was a blur too. It’s like Inception. Was Miguel just lucidly dreaming? Or was he dead? For the sake of this review, he’s not dead yet (sorry, I am not too sure of this since I just watched the film once).
  30. After the concussion, we now see lots of flashbacks from Miguel’s perspective. We see Erina writing letters addressed to Miguel. We learn that the paper notes that Miguel was reading every night was not from his fellow deacon but from Erina herself. Erina was pregnant and Miguel is the father. And since she cannot take it anymore (first paper note), she hangs herself on a tree. We then see a fetus went out from her split womb and splashed towards the ground. And this child, it seems, was Anghela. Wait… what?! I might be wrong with this but I was mind blown.
  31. I am reminded of this of one issue of Trese, I learned about an urban legend known as the tiyanak. Sorry, I’m using fiction now. From this issue, we hear of unwanted babies turning into freak creatures. Going back to the film, I’m speculating that the Devil used the unborn baby of Miguel and Erina to manifest corporeally.
  32. Now we know that Anghela is truly a personified Devil, it is not clear to me how the Devil got a body of Anghela. It is possible that it is from the dead baby of Miguel’s pregnant ex-girlfriend Erina who committed suicide by hanging herself as what we saw in Miguel’s dream.
  33. Fast forward. Miguel now engages with a battle with NgaHela by invoking the intercession of St. Michael, the Archangel who defeated Satan. Now we know why Miguel got his name. It means “Who can compare with God?”. We are now left with a crying helpless Anghela pleading for her life. The last resort for Miguel was to kill NgaHela by stabbing the child in the heart. When Miguel lifted her to the table for him to stab, it reminds us of the biblical scene of Abraham who would offer his beloved son, Isaac, as a holocaust (Genesis 22:1-19, NAB). Since its a battle between good and evil, the fitting scene would be Michael defeating Satan (Revelation 12:7-8, NAB). Look for the iconic logo of Ginebra San Miguel gin bottle and see the great Fernando Amorsolo‘s artwork. If she was indeed Miguel’s child, she is now killed twice. Miguel now finally escapes the house and leaves his fellow deacons and Cecilia.
  34. Keep in mind that it is not a good idea to engage in dialogue with the Devil. Eve and Adam failed on this as they were deceived and tempted to listen to their own passions.  The devil will not mess up with the lives of people unless people invite them to. So my advice for kids out there is to never try playing the Ouija board. Do not even dare.
  35. On the scene where the remaining deacons were seen prostrating in circle, it reminded me of the three faces of Satan, the inverted Trinity in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. We viewers know that these three deacons are not worthy to become priests. We know they would become future child abusers, womanizers, and gluttons.
  36. This scene reminded me the movie Spotlight where one of the characters said that if it takes on village to raise up a child, it takes up a whole city to abuse a child. If only we viewers were formators of these young men or simple parishioners who know the deacons, how would we prevent them from their wrong doings? We could have recommended them not to continue on their ordination and prevent them from becoming problematic priests.
  37. A plot hole? Cecilia was still wearing her religious garb during the ordination. Isn’t she exclaustrated from her congregation or just taking a leave of absence from her religious community? Or just started a new community on her own? Still curious what will happen to her after Anghela died.
  38. Going back to the ordination, we recall NgaHela saying that she would like to scatter her priest-followers inside the Church (Magisterium) so that the faithful would have a hard time distinguishing the impostors from the real pastors. The Devil might have deceived Miguel, his fellow deacons, and Cecilia that when Anghela died, the Devil will cease to exist. This is a lie because as pure spirit, the Devil is incorruptible.
  39. Just like what I’ve read from other film reviews, I would agree that the real horror of Seklusyon is not on the shocking scenes but rather the reality it opens to us viewers: that the Devil exists in our midst. The Devil might be tempting you or giving you false consolations. He might be working through our leaders. Because in the midst of power, wealth, or pleasure, the Devil is there.
  40. But the apostle Peter exhorts us to, “be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith” (1 Peter 5:8, NAB). Remember the Lord’s promise to us when he said we can drive out demons in his name (Mark 16:17, NAB)? Take courage, friends, for Jesus have conquered the world (John 16:33, NAB). Besides, as the name of Miguel suggests, who can compare with God? Jeez, that sounds preachy.

Other resources on angels:


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