The mainstream audience may not view horror as serious cinema, with supernatural situations that seem too farfetched to be relatable. Yet classics such as The Shining and Carrie prove that compelling stories can be told with blood and gore. Today, Get Out and Stranger Things reshape the horror genre with believable, complex characters that audiences can connect with. Guam-based director Bobby Bonifacio Jr. was sure to keep these things in mind when he was making his latest film, Hellcome Home.
“My writing is not necessarily about using the genre of horror but about making compelling characters. You get to know your characters by describing their fears,” Bonifacio said as he thoughtfully sipped his coffee. It’s late afternoon and the caffeine helped him unwind in the tiny Agana café. “You try to flesh out their flaws to be relatable. What is wrong with this character? What are their problems? How can this character speak to the viewer? Does the audience feel what the character feels? I try create important characters with goals to achieve.”
Bonifacio knows that in order to make a good horror film, he must focus on the writing. “Writers have to be honest when creating a story,” he asserted. “Of course, there are things you have to do when writing a certain genre—it has to fit a certain box—for me, I try to in fuse something in my stories that relates to my life. I always include my significant experiences in my stories.”
Being a creative soul, he searches for inspiration in everyday living. He doesn’t wait for his stories to appear, rather he shapes his stories as he moves about the world. “I usually like roaming around different places and observing people. I also like listening to people’s stories—either stories of friends or new people that I meet,” he shared. “For example, in a café, I'd be on my laptop and drinking coffee, but I'd be listening to conversations around me. Or I'd be looking at someone sitting by themselves and wonder who is this person and why are they alone. Of course, I get inspired by other movies or reading books. Another thing is my dreams—if I dream something interesting, I try to jot it down. Also, my emotions, so usually if something goes on in my life, then I try to turn it into a script.”
Bonifacio has no particular mode or ritual that he follows when getting creative. From YouTubing to royalty free music or re-watching Polanski and Kubrick horrors, sometimes Bonifacio must take a break from writing in order to absorb the media. He is also aware to look beyond the horror genre and draw inspiration from versatile icons such as Spielberg and Danny Boyle. As a Filipino filmmaker he also looks up to Chito Rono.
Bonifacio’s versatile tastes are apparent in Hellcome Home’s characters and cinematography — how the aura changes with the point of view. “Hellcome Home was originally offered to me as a concept of a ghost story with a unique point of view,” he shared. “The inspiration was the 90s because there was a lot of tragedies taking place in the Philippines. To actually make the story more interesting we decided to expand the plot into a more complex narrative.”
Hellcome Home subverts traditional horror genre by flipping the point of view during its second act. Bonifacio’s ghosts do not stay in the shadows, rather they become motivated characters perhaps more fleshed out than the story’s current residents.
As a true artist, Bonifacio acknowledges that his film is not perfect and that not everyone will appreciate it. “I'm human and I get offended by some negative comments, but it’s their right to voice out their opinions,” he said. “It's normal and healthy to get hurt but you have to weed out what’s not applicable and take in what’s valid. I want to make sure that people appreciate my projects.”
Hellcome Home is not Bonifacio’s first blockbuster hit. He has found success with Hospicio and Mayohan. Despite these achievements, Bonifacio still returns home to Guam where he works as a commercial director. “There is a lot of talent on Guam,” he said. “I see a lot of people on Guam I want to work with eventually. I’ve spent time getting to know them during workshops or projects.”
After screening his film at Micronesia Mall in December, Bonifacio hopes to showcase Hellcome Home to Asian-American film festivals in the states.
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