FOR ITS first foray into scripted entertainment, Fox Networks Group (FNG) Philippines, decided to take a gamble on Mark A. Meily’s Maledicto, a “character-driven horror film” about exorcism and a skeptical priest which is set to premiere on May 1 in cinemas nationwide.

“It started with a pitch-brief. Fox said they were looking for something that was either fantasy or horror but should have a local flavor and regional appear. So when we were coming up with the story, we thought exorcism is something that… exist in all parts of the world and yet the way we experience it [in the Philippines] is our own, it’s very local. We thought it was a good theme to expand on and make a story on,” scriptwriter Jonathan Guillermo told the media during a press conference on April 16 at Solaire Resort and Casino, Parañaque City.

From brainstorming to full film, the entire process took four years, said the film’s director as unlike his other horror films — like 2016’s Cristine Reyes-starrer Elemento about a boy who returns from a field trip with something sinister inside him — Maledicto demanded thorough research about the material.

“We consulted with an exorcist priest and researched on how the Vatican did their exorcisms,” he said.

The film revolves around Fr. Xavi (Tom Rodriguez), a former psychologist turned skeptical exorcist who meets Sr. Barbie (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), a young nun who can see spirits. Together, they try to solve the case of Agnes (Miles Ocampo), a teenager seemingly possessed by a demon.

While acknowledging that exorcism in films “can be a whole genre in itself,” there was a conscious effort by the production team to differentiate Maledicto from predecessors like The Exorcist (1974) and a host of others that came after it by treating it like a horror-procedural.

“That’s how we differentiated [the film] in how… it’s not just this premise for jump-scares. We tried to highlight the procedures and the uniqueness that this is a 21st-century institution that has procedures in place to discern if something supernatural is occurring,” Mr. Guillermo said.

For this “character-driven” horror film, Mr. Meily tried to “design an experience” and not just tell a story. It was initially meant to be a TV series until Fox and its co-producers, Cignal Entertainment and Unitel Productions Inc., decided that they would do a movie first to test the waters.

“That was the original intent [to create a series for Fox Filipino], so we went to Hollywood to figure out how to create a Filipino series and then we looked at the economics of many, many episodes and determined that it probably didn’t make sense to create all these episodes right away and have a theatrical release first to see if there’s traction,” Jude Turcuato, SVP and general manager of FNG Philippines, told the media on the sidelines of the press conference.

He added that if Maledicto does well in cinemas, they have plans for a sequel and a TV series.

Maledicto will be the barometer with which the company will base its decisions on whether to go ahead with producing other scripted original content in the Philippines.

“There’s nothing specific yet. The only one that is specific is there is another script waiting in the wings if this one does well,” said Mr. Turcuato.

“We wanted to do something differently, we want the story to be different, even though exorcism is familiar. We wanted to put all our efforts into one thing because I don’t want to have any regrets… [if we do too many things at once] you get distracted,” he explained.

Maledicto opens in cinemas nationwide on May 1. — ZBC