‘Clarita’ is wonderful vehicle to showcase the incredible range and talent of lead star Jodi Sta. Maria. Playing the titular Clarita, Jodi Sta. Maria gives us a complete performance in both the interiority of her character as well as her physicality as she plays a woman possessed by a multitude of demons.
Unfortunately, ‘Clarita’ is hindered by a messy script that doesn’t quite establish its characters nor reinforces the stakes at its beginning, and direction that doesn’t quite set up the scenes for its full effect or energy. ‘Clarita’ feels very plot-based than character-driven and it becomes quite challenging to invest in the characters outside of the idea that being possessed is a bad thing.
Set in 1953, Clarita is brought in to prison for being mistaken as a prostitute. The mayor is angry because the headlines include stories of Clarita’s violent outbursts, which have been dubbed as demonic possession. The mayor, played by Nonie Buencamino, wants to fix Manila’s image as it is recovering from the recent Japanese occupation during World War II. He brings a doctor, played by Che Ramos, to diagnose her with multiple personality disorder, but during a press conference, Clarita has another violent outburst that once again makes the headlines.
This time, they bring in two priests, Father Salvador (Ricky Davao) and Father Benedicto (Arron Villafor), to attempt at an exorcism. They are then joined by a reporter, Emilia (Alyssa Muhlach), who desperately wants to cover this story. As the death count rises for anyone that’s near Clarita, Father Salvador, Father Benedicto, and Emilia must work hard to try to free Clarita from the demons inside her or else more will die.
The film rushes through its exposition and introduces us characters and dramatic points, and quickly moves them away to a scary scene of Clarita killing people. It never takes the time to establish these characters and their personal motivations. I understand the principle of withholding information to create tension and mystery, but scene after scene happens and I haven’t come to really get to know any of these characters, most especially Clarita herself.
As a viewer, we are left to understand that we must free the young woman from this possession because it’s fatal, but they don’t humanize Clarita until two-thirds of the film where so much has happened that it feels too late in the game. We have seen so many possession movies from ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘The Conjuring’ to as recent as ‘Kuwaresma,’ that any new movie with that central plot should know that we have to care about these characters for us to be truly afraid. Clarita is introduced to us as a victim but she’s never really humanized or revealed until too late in the film.
At the same time, the film meanders because the two priests and the reporter have their own individual stories that serve to expand the themes of this film further than just Clarita’s possession -- with the exception of Arron Villaflor’s Father Benedicto -- that it seems to be juggling too much at any one time.
The film has some effective scenes that are creepy (though there is one scene that looks frightfully similar to a scene in ‘Suspiria’) but there are many moments when the camera coverage comes in too close or too far that we lose the sense of the action -- like several scenes during the exorcism where someone gets hurt but we don’t see why or how because it’s too close or too far. Mycko David’s lighting of the scenes are quite excellent, though. I just wish he properly covered the action so we can see what’s happening.
But with all my misgivings, Jodi Sta. Maria gives a very powerful performance shifting from scared and fragile Clarita to the demon-possessed fury of the demons inside her. As I said above, it’s a full-bodied performance and it’s wonderful to see her show off her range.