When tragedy befalls the monastery of Adoration, its Mother Superior asks its nuns to continue praying for the well-being of their beloved monastery.
But it’s only a matter of time before the sisters discover that even the most faithful of prayers can only take them so far.
Despite its title and its setting, Aparisyon is not a horror film. However, that doesn’t necessarily make any of the events that transpire any less horrific.
Aparisyon follows the story of four nuns of varying seniority; the Mother Superior or Sister Ruth (Fides Cuyugan-Asensio), Sister Vera (Raquel Villavicencio), Sister Remy (Mylene Dizon) and the fledgling Sister Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria).
In one of the earlier scenes of Aparisyon, Mother Superior makes it clear to Sister Lourdes that their monastery is nothing less than family.
It is a warm and sincere welcome to the young newcomer, but it is also a promise that is to put to the test when Sister Lourdes falls victim to a tragedy that threatens the integrity of the monastery and its inhabitants.
In that sense, Aparisyon becomes one of the most uniquely told family dramas in recent memory.
It lacks the traditional labels of parent and child that usual make up the conventional household, but the family hierarchy still holds clear within the walls of the monastery.
Like a family, it is only normal for the children to be at odds with their parents, but even then there is an apprehensive respect for them. But when the fate of Sister Lourdes becomes clear, it challenges both the faith and resolve of all the characters involved.
Which then begs the question—
How exactly do you take care of family?
There is an undeniable smallness to the film, but Sandoval manages to expand the scope of his story through the sheer scale of his themes, his characters, and his milieu.
Set against the backdrop of the Marcos regime, the monastery becomes a sanctuary to the unfolding chaos throughout the country. But it becomes evidently clear that even the most isolated of places isn’t safe from the violent and historical changes burning through the nation.
Sister Ruth desperately attempts to protect the sisters under her charge, but nothing is stronger than the force of change.
Soon Sister Ruth is forced to confront the idea that the true threat to her family is not only beyond the gates of the monastery, but from within the ranks of their own home.
A good number of audience members have argued that Aparisyon could stand well on its own without its historical setting.
In truth, Sandoval’s use of the Martial Law backdrop is so clearly detached from the story that it may prove difficult for viewers to argue for its necessity in the film’s plot.
But in this case, it’s exactly the film’s historical setting that elevates the material to be more than just a drama within a monastery.
During a time where the urge to remain silent is as strong as the need to survive, the film serves as an accurate reminder of how there is no clear cut solution to such conflicts.
Still, Aparisyon might’ve proven to be a more accessible film had Sandoval decided to add a bit more context to a number of the film’s scenes.
But what is truly remarkable about Aparisyon is how it elegantly balances the perspectives of the four nuns.
Each of the characters have their own ideals and principles, goals and apprehensions – and how director Vincent Sandoval manages to strike that balance with the barest of exposition.
There are no embittered speeches on the past and no drawn out explanations on why these women entered into a life of devotion.
Instead, Sandoval brings his characters to life through the power of the present scene and the raw talent of his cast.
Though the film challenges the merits of prayer, Sandoval is careful not to make any blatant judgments on the church and religion.
Unlike most other films with such strong religious underpinnings, Sandoval makes no distinctions between the heretics and the holy, the faithful and the fanatics.
However, one particularly cryptic aspect of Aparisyon isn’t anything in the film per se, but in the film’s title.
There is no literal apparition in the film, nor is there any mystical vision that presents itself to the nuns. But still, Aparisyon presents itself as a title that has a number of possible repercussions in the understanding of Sandoval’s intention.
On one hand the apparition can refer to the monastery’s secret that they refuse to recognize, and on the other hand, there is the haunting guilt that infects each of the character’s sleep. There is the illusion of family and protection, as well as the illusion of God’s hand in the lives of people.
There are a variety of interpretations to Sandoval’s film that makes it ripe for discussion long after the film is over. And though the lack of any concrete answer can leave a number of audience members unsatisfied, there is something to be said for the richness of the film’s themes and symbolisms.
But what is surely not an illusion is that Aparisyon is a beautiful and thought-provoking piece of work, brought to life through Sandoval’s vision, as well as his talented cast and crew.
PARA SA TAMAD MAGBASA:
A beautiful, thought-provoking yet cryptic film; easily worth discussing long after the credits have rolled.