Aina Dumlao, Justin Arnold, Jayne Taini, Jon Viktor Corpuz, Tomorrow Shea
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…an effective psychological ghost story; one which will resonate with you long after you’ve seen it.
The past comes back to haunt everyone – figuratively and literally – in this modern gothic tale from director Xia Magnus.
Evelyn (Aina Dumlao) is a Filipina caretaker housed up in Texas, looking after Dena (Jayne Taini), an elderly woman caught in the throes of dementia. Dena’s mental health is deteriorating rapidly, and she spends her nights calling out for ‘Clem’, the name of her son (Justin Arnold) who has just moved back to his hometown. Clem, meanwhile, has his own problems, including PTSD and a penchant for self-harm. Finally, there’s Amos (Jon Viktor Corpuz), Evelyn’s nephew, living in his aunt’s place of work while his school decides whether to expel him for a violent incident.
There’s enough there to fill three kitchen sink dramas, but Sanzaru isn’t finished with us yet, as Dena’s complaints that she can hear voices in the walls of her home begin to have an effect on poor Evelyn. As her employer’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic, Evelyn starts to unravel a mystery involving Dena, Clem and his sister, Susan (Tomorrow Shea), while trying to shelter her nephew from the truth about her past.
Slap bang in the middle of nowhere Texas, Evelyn carries a dignity about her as she works for a family whose matriarch’s racism bubbles to the surface every time something goes missing around the house. Under Dena’s watch, people of colour are okay to wipe you clean after you’ve soiled yourself, but they’re all inherently thieves. As the put-upon caretaker, Dumlao carries the movie on her shoulders while we watch her trying to make sense of what’s happening around her.
Reminiscent of Mattie Do’s Chanthaly, Xia Magnus drip-feeds the narrative to his audience for a large part of the film, before dropping a resolution on them with the weight of a piano. It could be argued that for the weight behind its gut punch, the dénouement of Sanzaru could benefit from being allowed to marinate. Magnus has spent so long teasing us, that when the meaning behind his film’s title is revealed, Sanzaru goes into top gear and doesn’t look back. Considering the last third of the film involves a parakeet possessed by the spirit of Evelyn’s deceased mother, you need a little time to breathe.
With that said, Sanzaru is an effective psychological ghost story; one which will resonate with you long after you’ve seen it.