In My Mother's Skin - Fantastic Fest Texas Premiere
Director: Kenneth Dagatan
Starring: Felicity Kyle Napuli, Beauty Gonzalez, Angeli Bayani, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, James Mavie Estrella
Written by: Kenneth Dagatan
Produced by: Bianca Balbuena, Bradley Liew, Stefano Centini, Junxiang Huang
Cinematography by: Russell Adam Morton
Original Score by: Sing Wu
Stranded in the Philippines during World War II, a young girl finds that her duty to protect her dying mother is complicated by her misplaced trust in a beguiling, flesh-eating fairy.
Cruel and violent, Kenneth Dagatan's latest feature film is a horrific fairytale told through the eyes of two young siblings essentially left to fend for themselves at home in Japanese occupied Philippines, after their father disappears and their mother becomes gravely ill. It has some tough to watch scenes with little to no hope but it's all held together by a simply breathtaking performance from Felicity Kyle Napuli.
The end of World War II is almost in sight but the Japanese haven't surrendered just yet. Their soldiers are still terrorising innocent Filipino families and one man has been picked out, rumoured to have stolen gold from the Japanese and hidden it on his property. Aldo, the patriarch of the family must seek help from the American soldiers before the gold is found and his family is murdered. But we don't follow Aldo. We stay with his kids Tala (Napuli) and Bayani (James Mavie Estrella) as they attempt to survive and care for their sickly mother in the wake of his departure.
Tala and Bayani see death all around them. Corpses lying in the woods nearby and war still brewing in the near distance. As their Mother's health deteriorates and their own survival instincts kick in, Tala leads her younger brother into the woods to seek help from anyone or, as we soon find out, anything.
Sometimes the most sinister evil can be found in the most beautiful offerings. This is the best way to sum up what happens next to Tala. In an abandoned cabin strewn in earthly foliage, she makes a deal with an ethereal humanoid fairy who promises to heal her Mother. It's a desperate move for Tala but one she is willing to make. Sadly it is one she will regret soon enough.
'In My Mother's Skin' has some real triggering moments. The imminent death of a parent. The atrocity of war. The desperation of a child being drowned in squalor. The loving connection between siblings being ripped apart in the most brutal way possible. This is a dark fairytale grounded in horrid reality with visceral imagery that is deeply disturbing. It reminded me a little bit of Guillermo Del Toro's 2006 masterpiece 'Pan's Labyrinth' only with the horror meter turned up to 11.
The pacing is a bit slow at times but it does help to add to the feeling of inescapable dread and everything involving the Mother is terrifying. There's a scene when Aldo "finds" his son after returning home and it just floored me. 'In My Mother's Skin' is a pretty brutal experience, one that is not particularly enjoyable but indubitably unforgettable.
- Gavin Logan
'In My Mother's Skin' received its Texas Premiere at Fantastic Fest '23 on September 21st