Filipinos have taken to the international stage the country's patent love for—and prowess in—horror and the supernatural many a time.
In recent history: Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo's comic series Trese became an animated series on Netflix in 2021. It revolves around Alexandra Trese, the babaylan-mandirigma arbiter of the mortal plane and the underworld.
This May, the restored version of Mike De Leon's debut full-length occultist feature Itim (1979) screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
And this October, the Halloween month, filmmaker Carlo Ledesma is joining the fold with his short film The Kapre premiering on Hulu.
The seven-minute flick follows two Americans, portrayed by Filipino-American singer-actress Tippy Dos Santos and Philippine-based Italian actor-model Nico Locco, who "awaken a large and legendary creature while camping in an enchanted Philippine forest.” It's part of Hulu's Bite Size Halloween, a series of horror shorts from emerging filmmakers worldwide.
"As a Filipino filmmaker, it’s always been a dream of mine to share our myths and monsters to a global audience," Ledesma wrote in a Facebook post Oct. 3. "So world, meet The Kapre."
Ledesma told PhilSTAR L!fe that in pitching The Kapre to producers, he tried to market a "light-hearted" film that doesn't take itself "too seriously," instead of painting a grotesque picture of local folklore.
"I told the studio that we in the Philippines have our own version of a Bigfoot," he said. "What makes our version unique is that he's a tree-dwelling, cigar-smoking, mischief-making giant."
Apart from being more palatable to a wider audience, The Kapre's direction also has something to do with Ledesma's previous project, the rather nailbiting Sunod (2019). As a "modern ghost story," he noted, Sunod revolves around a single mother who works as a call center agent for the sake of her severely ill daughter—unaware of her office's dark history.
"I always strive to do something different each time I venture into a new project," Ledesma said, noting that the level of fright The Kapre tries to evoke is akin to Jurassic Park (1993), particularly the famous tyrannosaurus rex scene. "The studio liked that idea and gave us the go-signal to produce the film."
Filming started in May, during which they worked both in a studio and outdoors.
Unlike other filmmakers who frequently resort to green screen and computer-generated imagery, Ledesma said that for The Kapre, he mostly employed the classic, trusty practical effects and what the real world has to offer. For him, visual effects had to be as minimal as possible.
The famed balete tree his team used, he noted, was from a forest near Manila. It's also where the final chase scene also took place. The eponymous kapre was also portrayed by a real person, Antonio Adlawan, who wore prosthetics.
Ledesma wouldn't be able to make The Kapre if it wasn't for his childhood in Bacolod, where he attributes his penchant for horror and the supernatural.
With gadgets not as ubiquitous as they are right now, he said, his source of entertainment mostly involved listening to stories about mythical creatures like the kapre, tikbalang, and manananggal.
"Nothing fueled my imagination more," he said, "and when told from the perspectives of provincial folk, they all seemed so vivid and real. They continue to fascinate me to this day."
A watchlist consisting of horror flicks also reinforced Ledesma's interest in the genre, with the killer shark thriller Jaws (1975) being his all-time favorite. "It was the film that opened up my eyes to not just horror, but films as a whole."
As a Filipino filmmaker, it’s always been a dream of mine to share our myths and monsters to a global audience.
A household that's "deeply" into film also proved to be a turning point for Ledesma as a young adult—and a budding filmmaker.
As a "film baby" who grew up with Betamax and LaserDisc, he recalled how his parents were always allowing him to watch movies he likes or at least those that piques his interest, including the R-rated ones. That's not because they had poor parenting skills, he noted, but because they're so "cool" and "open-minded" to help him become discerning enough with the stories he consumes.
"I really have my parents to thank for stoking the filmmaking flame that still burns in me to this day," said Ledesma, who's now in his early 40s.
He said his father would also always allow him to tinker with the spare cameras around the house.
"I quickly discovered that I had a knack for telling stories using those cameras, with my high school classmates and my sisters as my very first actors," Ledesma said. "I was very fortunate."
His fascination for mythological creatures was also complemented by his undergraduate degree, i.e., literature at the De La Salle University in Manila.
He then had an apprenticeship at Che Che Lazaro's Probe Productions in the aughts, eventually getting hired as a producer and director for Gameplan, a now defunct sports show.
But Ledesma's path to becoming a full-fledged filmmaker began in 2004, when he took up his master's degree in film in Australia. It's also where he would later make his debut feature film, The Tunnel (2011), a The Blair Witch Project-style found footage which even earned him best director at the Night of Horror Film Festival.
He has since returned to the Philippines in 2012. To date, he's a television commercial director and co-owner of production house, MAKINA.
Ledesma's filmography primarily comprises horror, if not fantasy. Aside from Sunod, his notable credits include being a co-writer of Saving Sally (2016), a half-animated, half-live action romantic comedy which premiered at the Metro Manila Film Festival.
Pinoy horror on the international stage
In light of the growing worldwide exposure of Pinoy horror, Ledesma believes it's high time for the world to pay more attention to the country's "rich stories."
As a matter of fact, as The Kapre premiered on Hulu, the trailer for the upcoming Ireland-produced Nocebo also came out. It features Chai Fonacier, who portrays a folk healer nanny, starring alongside French actress Eva Green and English actor Mark Strong.
"The more the merrier!" Ledesma said, adding that The Kapre is just the first of many films exploring local folklore and creatures he intends to make.
He also called on fellow Filipino filmmakers, horror-loving and otherwise, to come together to defeat the "dreaded monster" that is crab mentality and support each other in bringing the country to the fore.
"I hope to share more of our myths to the world," Ledesma said. "And to other Pinoy filmmakers out there, I hope you can do the same."