18 March 2009 | Jay_Exiomo
Topel Lee never recaptured in his later works the brilliance of "Yaya," his episode for the 8th installment of the irrepressible horror omnibus "Shake, Rattle & Roll," though for a while he has quite a bit going for "Sundo." Instead the director's latest endeavor ends up as a disappointing, by-the-numbers ghost feature, as a result of its eventual reliance on cheap scare tactics that fails to generate a modicum of authentic scare despite the constantly unsettling mood of the gloomy cinematography.
Lee and scriptwriter Aloy Adlawan's thriller concerns former military man Romano (a tempered down, initially Jesus Christ-beard sporting Robin Padilla) who, after spending a significant amount of time in a coma, discovers he can see dead people. It turns out these spirits are not the usual harmless specters, but are harbingers of Death (with a capital D) appearing near a person about to conk out; which is to say, everyone who got a second crack at life when, courtesy of a dream, Romano saved a van from a fatal crash, and that includes him, his blind sister Isabel (Rhian Ramos), his friend Loeulla (Sunshine Dizon), a mother (Glydel Mercado), her son (Hero Angeles), and a hitchhiking actress (Katrina Halili).
It's a promising premise, designed to fuel the fear entrenched from the it's-a-blackout-and-yaya-will-tell-a-ghost-story years about how sick or dying people supposedly see someone who has earlier died. Up to a point, "Sundo" has the makings to live up to that primal fear, generating a credible performance from Padilla while effectively employing the constant sense of dread through its methodical mise-en-scene, as typified by Padilla waiting outside an ophthalmologist's clinic and a shot near the climax that has Padilla sitting on a couch in the dark. Yet the script's unfortunate decision to swerve into a rote hybrid of a shoddy J-Horror and "Final Destination" undercuts whatever merits it has gained, and while Halili is here to provide the obligatory cleavage, it's frustratingly drowned by the weight of the studio's demand to keep it at a more profitable PG-13 rating.