Unveiling a haunting blend of fantasy and horror, director Kenneth Dagatan presents his latest film, In My Mother's Skin, set against the tumultuous backdrop of World War II in the Philippines. Amidst the hardships of war, we are introduced to Tala (Felicity Kyle Napuli), a young girl who seeks assistance in the aid of a mysterious fairy, as she attempts to help and feed her family. In this film, Dagatan explores the complexities of desperation and the enduring weight of hope in the face of despair.
While there is a healthy dose of fantasy, reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, In My Mother’s Skin is not a mere fusion, as this film remains prominently an intense horror experience. Dagatan skillfully infuses familiar elements and creatures from the genre, tactfully adding his own distinctive twists and orchestrating a multitude of threats that relentlessly haunt the protagonist. The film's portrayal of gore is both brutal and effective, oscillating between fantastical exaggeration and a gritty reality.
In My Mother's Skin also adeptly weaves together imagery and concepts from Catholicism and mythology, forming a fresh tapestry of ideas. The striking design of the fairy's attire draws inspiration from the iconic halo-adorned depictions of the Virgin Mother Mary, cleverly intertwining themes of hope and blind faith. The exploration of these concepts is multi-dimensional, offering diverse perspectives from both the youthful innocence of the children and the forlorn of the adults.
Transporting us to the turbulent time of World War II, this film also shines as a period piece. While the narrative is centered on Tala and her family, Dagatan capably integrates the historical context without resorting to excessive exposition. The situations presented feel organic and consequential within the war-ravaged setting, providing the characters with realistic motivations and instilling their choices with profound empathy.
Every aspect of In My Mother's Skin exudes an authentic Filipino essence. The scorching heat of the jungle is almost a character in itself, as the vibrant chorus of cicadas brings the environment to life. The grand, isolated house with its majestic pillars and creaking wooden floors, enveloped by lush foliage, becomes an alluring backdrop for the tale. The inclusion of Catholic prayers and rituals performed by the children with their parents at night adds depth and richness to the characters, anchoring them firmly in their Filipino heritage.
The film's performances rest on the capable shoulders of its young talents, as Felicity Kyle Napuli and James Mavie Estrella shine brilliantly as the siblings Tala and Bayani. Through the lens of their youthful perspective, the narrative assumes an elevated sense of the fantastical and the terrifying. Another standout portrayal comes from Jasmine Curtis-Smith, who admirably embodies the enigmatic Fairy—a mystical entity that beckons for trust.
In My Mother's Skin is a fresh and unsettling exploration of the human spirit in the midst of wartime tribulations. With its authentic Filipino resonance, compelling themes, and standout designs, this film establishes itself as a distinct horror entry to 2023.