The Refrigerator Dir. Rico Ilarde

[Regal Films; 2013]

Styles: horror, thriller
Others: Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, The Mangler

Horror movies about haunted objects, today, are something of a punchline turned ironic appropriation. So it’s tough to say “here’s a movie about an evil refrigerator” and receive much more than a brief chuckle or a cynical nod. Is it really impossible to sculpt a full-bodied, satisfying film from something so high-concept and strange? An inanimate-turned-animate object in one’s home would be terrifying in real life. Why does it seem so silly on the big screen? Those questions posed, here’s a movie about an evil refrigerator.

The Refrigerator, by Filipino director Rico Ilarde, is a remake of a 1984 entry in the horror series Shake, Rattle & Roll. It concerns Tina Benitez (Andi Eigenmann), who returns to her childhood home to investigate the mysterious circumstances from years ago that left her mother dead and her father missing. It’s a classic “haunted house” setup, but the exposition is brisk and the story bends towards a suspense thriller, painting Tina more as a detective on the case than a hapless rag-doll. Eigenmann stays remarkably grounded throughout the mostly fantastical events of the film, giving a quietly aggressive performance and offering a sensible mind for the audience to follow. This restraint carries into the cinematography, which is by-and-large indicative of a straightforward drama. Gentle tracks, shot-reverse on the dialogue, warm and uniform lighting. It’s all very familiar and conventional.

Until tentacles emerge from the titular fridge, animated to appear rotten and uncanny. All of the CGI in the movie is a brilliant half-notch below perfect, otherworldly, and calling attention to itself. The action of these action sequences is equally ludicrous. A giant stationary refrigerator, tucked away in the corner of the room, is somehow able to physically best nearly every character in the story at one point or another. Ilarde’s greatest success here is chopping his film into dichotomous segments — large, overarching intrigue, punctuated by truly bizarre conflict. It’s as if every 10-15 minutes, The Refrigerator gets bored and attempts to undermine itself, until the two sides start to spill over into one another towards the end of the movie, and it becomes no longer clear which things are ridiculous and which things are compelling. An immensely strange and elaborate set-piece keeps the disarray flowing through the finale, and by the time the final shot appears, we can’t tell if the director is joking or not.

The problem with a lot of modern-day films from this sphere is that the “so-bad-it’s-good” mentality robs them of any legitimate attempt at storytelling, encouraging critical and emotional distancing. Attempts to subvert this leave the bad taste of conceptual experiments for their own sake and the weird double-triple irony that erodes all sense of real appreciation into a mishmash of swollen talking points and opinions that sound better than they feel. The Refrigerator is totally aware of precedent and media context, but never buys into it, never obsesses over how it will be perceived. Which are the exact circumstances under which old-school b-movie charm can thrive. The twist, in this instance, is that Ilarde has quarantined the crazy parts of his creative faculties and only lets them loose at precise moments. It’s routine turned jagged; an appliance turned killer.

The film won’t convert anyone already put off by the premise or the style. And it doesn’t definitively move haunted object horror in one direction or the other. More than anything, it shows how to take a story about an evil fridge and laugh at the audience instead of itself. Moments of genuine excitement, truly horrible imagery, and a core of honest and intense performances: all for The Refrigerator. But that’s not the joke.

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