Halloween is close at hand, o’ Gentle Visitors, but here at the Litterbox there’s still just enough time for one more Philippine ghost story before the month finally runs out, so here’s their latest to hit DVD, “Villa Estrella”. Straight to this lil’ Catgirl from my last Philippine mail order….. Ah, the joys of Internet shopping!!
The synopsis available reads like follows: “Ana (Shaina Magdayao) always has bad dreams about people getting murdered when she sleeps. Her ex-boyfriend (Jake Cuenca)drags Ana to the dilapidated resort of Villa Estrella in an effort to rekindle their lost romance. There, she is introduced to the strange inhabitants of the resort: Giselle, the daughter of one of the resort’s long-time helpers who seem to have a mysterious connection with Ana and the resort’s eccentric caretaker, Mang Gusting, who has been searching for his beloved daughter Andrea since she suddenly disappeared many years ago never to be seen again.
Giselle turns out to be one of the people who appear in her terrifying dreams. Strange incidents start to occur when Jennifer (Celine Lim), Giselle’s sister gets pulled into a swimming pool. Ana then realized she is spiritually connected to the resort where the ghosts are seeking vengeance from people who caused their death. They need to leave the resort before they become their next victims…”
Romance…. ghosts…. bad dreams…. run down resorts haunted by the evil spirits of the vengeful dead… even a sweet little crippled girl thrown in to pump up the cuteness level…. this one certainly looks to have covered all the bases for sure. But then, the real test is always in the watching, so there’s really only one way to know what’s up, and that’s if…. you guessed it… you all “Read On”….
After “Dalaw” I was sooooo, sooooo disappointed, but this one certainly improved my mood considerably about Philippine ghost movies. We start out with Ana (played by Shaina Magdayao)…. a troubled young girl desperate to escape the abusive alcoholic father (played by John She) who beats her and keeps trying to pair her up with the son of his business partner, her Uncle Dave (played by John Arcilla). Ana’s father is convinced that if she gets back together with Alex (played by Jake Cuenca), it could be the only way to save them since his drinking has just about ruined them financially. But there’s a problem…. Ana, already has a new steady boyfriend, the sweet and caring Dennis (played by Geoff Eigenmann) who convinces her to elope with him and escape all this. He arrives in the dead of night to help her sneak away but due to some stupid promise Ana gave her dead mother, she finds herself unable to go through with it at the last moment. That turns out to be a big mistake because by the next day, Alex has planned to taken her with him in the undeveloped resort they had named Villa Estrella supposedly to check on his father’s renovation project there. In reality he’s as abusing, controlling and downright mean as her father is and just wants to get Ana someplace where he can keep her from leaving easily from while he tries to force her to start seeing him again.. What a bastard.
This is perhaps the only real problem for me in this film…. Ana is very sweet and appealingly played by Shaina Magdayao, but the story makes her out to be basically a weak doormat that all the nasty characters can just keep dishing out cruelties to. She doesn’t develop any backbone throughout the entire film, making stupid choices and easily avoidable mistakes, remaining the perennial victim throughout. The one character who could save her from this… Dennis… finds himself unable to get her to make any real attempt to aid herself in escaping from her misery. If you know this lil’ Catgirl by now, you know I like my heroines to show a bit more spunk than this…. Is this a real overall problem for the film? Not really, as it’s pretty much the standard “Gothic heroine thing” that’s been around since “Wuthering Heights”…. but it’s a serious flaw in my mind at least and affected my overall enjoyment.
Anyway… upon arriving at Villa Estrella, Ana suddenly feels an unknown dread about the entire place mostly centered on the peculiar attention given to her by the caretaker, Mang Gusting (played by Ronnie Lazaro). He seems to remember her having visited long ago when she was just a little girl and tells her all about her childhood friendship with his missing daughter, Andrea. Although something nags at the edge of her mind, Ana has absolutely no memory of ever having been here before and begs Alex for them to leave the place but he resists it. He pretty much plans to keep her here no matter what until she agrees to get back together with him.
Other characters get introduced…. like the sweet little crippled girl Jennifer (played by Celine Lim) and her invisible friend Danika…. Jennifer’s mom tells Ana the tragic story of how Danika drowned in the resort’s pool and how her daughter has never ever gotten over it. Being a ghost story, you just know that Danika is a very real presence even if nobody but little Jennifer can see her…. Later, Ana meets Jennifer’s older sister, Giselle (played by Maja Salvador) and, sharing a similar secret misery in their lives, they become friends. Still, something here is badly amiss…..
People start disappearing…. grabbed by a malevolent thing that seems to dwell in the resort’s deserted pool….. One by one, they get nabbed, and eventually we learn that unquiet spirits have the ability to return to life…. by stealing the bodies of the living at the moment of their death. At this point…. you get the idea that Ana herself might just be one of those spirits…. after all, she did nearly drowned in that pool as a girl. I figured then that the spirit trying to get her was actually Ana herself, trying to seize her own body back from the spirit that took it all those years ago. Great idea, right? But unfortunately….. nope, that’s not what’s going on. It’s “Spoiler Alert” time….
You see, all those years ago, Ana instead witnessed her vicious father murder Andrea in that pool with the help of Uncle Dave after those two tried to rape the poor girl. Little Ana couldn’t do anything to prevent the murder of her friend… and blocked the whole terrible incident from her mind. Andrea now haunts the resort, having become a twisted water demon spirit looking for her revenge…. and for a way to get back the life stolen from her all those years ago.
Sigh…. here’s where the plot gets a bit muddled. Dennis arrives to try to take Ana away, and fails to do it…… Ana gets really stupid and insists on recovering her mom’s necklace she lost in the haunted pool, and so Dennis’s buddy becomes the next victim of Andrea’s wrath. Dennis and Alex get into an actual fight and still Ana fails to just plain get the heck outta here…. Oh….yeah…. and Andrea…. it seems even though she does kill both her murderers, needs to kill her friend just so she can steal her body to live on again…. some friendship there….
The ending for this one is… well… a real let down. Little Jennifer gets killed and possessed by Danika… Dennis gets murdered by Uncle Dave, Ana gets killed and her body taken by Andrea…. I guess the only winner is Mang Gusting who get revenge on the guy who hurt his daughter and does get that daughter back even though he doesn’t know it….
Well…. I guess this one is sorta OK… but it certainly is a bit of a bummer by the ending. Neko liked it overall, and the freaky water demoness was sorta neat for a change of pace. At least the story for this one mostly made lots more sense than “Dalaw” did… so I guess that’s a plus. So…. I’ll give “Villa Estrella” 3 “Meows” out of 5, but it definitely could have had a tighter story with a more satisfactory ending to make it really work out as a truly great film. The Philippine DVD is good as always, with Trailers, a making of featurette and excellent accurate English subtitles on board. The price was good too, so you can’t go wrong there either.
Trailer? Why certainly….. as if I’d leave ya all hanging…. Enjoy!!