Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan

The elements that made Bob Ong’s eponymous novella horrific get lost in Chito S. Roño’s pompous and flashy adaptation.

THE OPENING SEQUENCE of Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan — Chito S. Roño’s adaptation of the same-name horror novella from Bob Ong — gives an immediate sense of incongruence. The book, first published in 2010, follows an epistolary, first-person format through a collection of the protagonist’s journal entries. Despite the striking tint of purple on the cover, the novella is largely grounded in the mundane everyday dealings of a young college student: after-school shenanigans, late-night drinking sessions, and in-commute existential downward spirals. So, it’s as fascinating as it is frustrating to see Roño adapt the story in his pompous, hi-contrast style. We learn, through a hamfisted dream sequence, that we are, indeed, inside the mind of an endearing yet troubled teenager named Galo (Joshua Garcia), AHS-esque Dutch angles and obnoxious voiceovers and all.

The story picks up in his angst-filled dog days at college. He’s academically average, with no medals or trophies to appease his aunt and uncle, who have half-heartedly taken him in for being orphaned. The more interesting parts of Ong’s novella come from the mundanity of his life at school and home, if he’d call it that. Galo is less of a happy-go-lucky pretty boy unfazed by his lack of prospects and more of a wayward young man with deeply flawed mentalities and perspectives. Roño’s flashy –isms obscure much of this nuance, including things that make the book effective as a horror story, including its antipathy to abuse of authority and institutional neglect.

Everything else, though, Roño pretty much sticks too, so faithfully so that it’s almost beat-for-beat. Many elements don’t telegraph well into the screen, with the book being an introverted, anecdotal account. Also, Roño’s film seems set on the idea of revealing more about the central mystery. In contrast, Ong’s book, like Mama Susan’s eponymous “friends,” is devoted to keeping many of the town’s secrets…well, a secret.

Speaking of Mama Susan, the second half of the film finds Galo moving back to his hometown, where his grandmother, whom he fondly calls Mama Susan, resides. An otherwise ordinary-looking province, the town of Tarmanes harbors quite a few secrets, chief among them their being deliberately off-grid. This, along with the many spooky statues in Mama Susan’s household, is a recipe for a horrific time. And yet, the film yields so few scares as it trudges along this weird pace of Galo’s original accounts from the book.

In terms of performances, Joshua Garcia is fine, and Angie Ferro is incredible. But we’ve seen both actors in better films — the former in Love You to the Stars and Back, and the latter in Lola Igna. Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan stayed in development limbo for years against much anticipation from fans of the novella (including this writer). Whatever Frankensteinian monster Regal and Prime Video put together, I’d chalk up to a case of literary-cinematic mismatch that, sadly, missed what made the source material terrifying.


Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan

2023 | Horror, Thriller | dir. Chito S, Roño

Galo is a university student who writes on his journal the string of unsettling and mysterious experiences he has while living with his grandmother, Mama Susan.

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