VIFF review: Filipina caregiver is drawn into domestic unease in supernatural suspense Sanzaru

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      Sanzaru (USA) Streaming online at the 2020 Vancouver International Film Festival from September 24 to October 7 at VIFF Connect

      More atypical suspense than conventional North American horror, Sanzaru employs the meditative pace of Filipino arthouse cinema, replete with silent pauses and patient observations of everyday life.

      Filipina caregiver Evelyn, convincingly portrayed by Aina Dumlao, moves into an isolated, modest home in rural Texas to look after the aging and mobility-challenged Dena, delivered in a deeply felt performance by Jayne Taini. Even though Dena’s dishevelled son Clem (Justin Arnold) lives in a trailer in the yard, he has little interest in taking care of his mother.

      When Evelyn’s troubled nephew Amos (Jon Viktor Corpuz) moves in due to problems at school, tensions arise and the living situation becomes uncomfortable. Writer-director Xia Magnus articulates the growing unease particularly effectively, punctuating it with moments of reprieve.

      But what keeps this slow-burn thriller simmering is that Magnus isn’t content to leave this narrative in the realm of domestic drama—instead, the discomfort continues to heat up in unusual ways. As electric devices malfunction, Dena’s condition deteriorates, and Amos develops strange symptoms, Evelyn remains uncertain if she’s imagining things—or if there’s another presence in the house.

      As the title takes its name from the three wise monkeys of the Japanese proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”, everyone here has secrets they’re concealing, with one particularly untold dark truth that has cast a pall over the house.

      When truths do surface, the pace accelerates to the point it almost betrays its slow build. While its conclusion may not completely satisfy, there is much to appreciate and take note of here, namely the talented cast and filmmaker.