Terrors of “Mallari”: A High Five Review

by Gabrielle Marcelo
Mallari Poster
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Mallari is a horror film and the talk of the town after showing on the big screen as part of the 2023 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). Mallari earned praise for its unique take on Philippine horror, bagging multiple awards during the “aGabi ng Parangal” Awards Night including Best Visual Effects, Best Musical Score, Best Supporting Actor for JC Santos, and third place for Best Picture.

What makes this movie such a terrifying and terrific watch? Read on and find out in this High Five review of Mallari.


A Story Based on True Events

Severino Mallari

Warner Bros. Pictures

In real life, Juan Severino Mallari is a Filipino Catholic Priest who serves a church in the province of Pampanga during the Spanish colonial period. Mallari is said to be the first documented serial killer in the Philippines and murdered 57 people in the town he was serving. His motive for taking lives? He was convinced that killing people served as an offering to a higher being that would help cure his ailing mother.

The plot of Mallari follows the eponymous priest’s story as it interweaves with the lives of his descendants, introducing supernatural elements along the way that make this unique story even more chilling. Jonathan Mallari De Dios (Piolo Pascual) is a descendant of Juan Severino Mallari and uncovers his family’s generational secret while he makes sense of his present and future with his fiancèe Agnes (Janella Salvador).

The Lead Actor 

Mallari Piolo Pascual

Warner Bros. Pictures

Mallari stars award-winning actor Piolo Pascual as he takes on triple duty by portraying Mallari and his descendants in three separate timelines. Pascual was able to capture the audience’s attention with the portrayal of Juan Severino Mallari, giving justice to his character’s double life as a principled servant of God by day and a terrifying murderer by night. He also plays photojournalist Johnrey Mallari, a determined, hardworking journalist and grand nephew of Juan Severino who serves as the middle-man between past and present. Lastly, Pascual takes on the role of Jonathan Mallari De Dios, a timid doctor willing to do anything for his partner and the last descendant of the Mallari clan.

Pascual takes on the gargantuan task of putting on unique and memorable performances for all three characters – different yet similar, but all of them are connected through the murders and family secrets of the Mallari clan. Pascual’s performance was superb, giving life to different roles and perfectly creating a distinction between the characteristics of three people while building up the plot.


Non-linear Storytelling

Mallari Characters

Warner Bros. Pictures

The movie starts with Dr. Jonathan Mallari De Dios as he returns to his ancestral home because of a vision he saw in his dreams. It is here where he learns about his ancestors and the horrors that they wrought and experienced.

Throughout the movie, the setting jumps across three timelines – the 1810s where Juan Severino originally started committing his crimes, the 1940s where Johnrey is uncovering secrets of the past and documenting it for posterity, and present day where Jonathan is reading Johnrey’s journal and coming to terms with his discoveries while preventing the horrible future he saw in his visions. 

This nonlinear narrative makes for a unique framing device that highlights the parallels across the different timelines. These timeskips were executed so seamlessly as these were mostly set inside the mansion. The only indications to viewers of a timeline jump are the set design changes, the scene’s color palette, the dialogue, and Piolo Pascual’s acting, however these aspects are distinct enough to not confuse the audience even with little to no explanation of the timeskip occurring.


Terrifying Creatures

Terrifying Creatures in Mallari

Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the main highlights of Mallari is its memorable portrayal of paranormal creatures. Mallari bagged the award for Best Visual Effects and this surely is agreeable to anyone who has seen the movie.

There are a variety of supernatural beings shown in the film including a manananggal, a werewolf, and numerous ghosts of victims of mass murders and wars. Many murder victims come back as pleading spirits after timeskips, showing themselves to descendants of the Mallari clan and giving them warnings. The visuals of the ghosts and creatures accompanied by chilling sound effects will surely make your hair stand on end. Jumpscares are rare in Mallari, as the whole film will make you feel like you’re stuck in a nightmare yourself – the scenes linger and the sounds permeate throughout the whole cinema, raising goosebumps and making hearts beat faster.


Inner Conflict

Severino and Dona Facunda

Warner Bros. Pictures

Juan Severino Mallari is a servant of God, but when he is presented with a choice between his duty as a priest and the wellness of his mother, he chooses an unlikely path that highlights the cognitive dissonance he is facing. His helplessness in the situation was what started the generational curse, allowing his mother to become a monster and turning him into a murderer who kills people to satisfy her needs.

This inner conflict extends outwards towards the audience and asks them how they should react – should viewers feel sorry for Juan Severino, or should they feel anger for his actions that took human lives? This is further compounded by the revelation that the people he killed were those he considered “pests” of society like corrupt landowners and the like. Does it excuse Juan Severino’s actions at all? The conflict persists and it stays with you, much like the curse which stayed with the family for generations.


The Verdict

Overall, the film proved itself worthy of the praise and recognition it received during the 2023 MMFF Awards Night. The combination of the story’s real-life inspiration, its unique framing device and the conflict faced by the Mallaris made for an engaging watch, with good execution of scares and commendable performances, especially from the lead actor.


SEA Wave gives this movie a 4 out of 5.

Have you seen this film? Which MMFF entry is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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