“In My Mother’s Skin” Beckons Audiences to the Terror in an Archipelago of Betrayal

A woman with brown hair and a blakc dress, a woman with a pink coat over a colorful dress, a woman in an aqua-colored t-shirt and jeans, and a man in glasses dressed in all black, stand in front of a step and repeat at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

(L–R) Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Beauty Gonzalez, Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer Heidi Zwicker, and Kenneth Dagatan at the “In My Mother’s Skin” Premiere at Egyptian Theatre in Park City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

By Stephanie Ornelas 

A natural part of child rearing is to teach future generations not to make promises they cannot keep, among countless other life lessons. Every single culture around the globe maintains this as one of the most important pillars in life. But when you’re a flesh-eating fairy, you make your own rules.

In My Mother’s Skin premiered at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City last night as part of the Festival’s Midnight section. The beautiful and twisted film received a positive response from audience members who were excited about the film’s representation of Filipino culture.

“Everybody in this film — we’re really happy to see you in person. My husband is Filipino and we have Filipino friends, so we know you, you’re famous in the Philippines, and it’s really nice to see you here,” one audience member said. 

It’s post-World War II in the Philippines, and all is in disarray. A young girl, Tala, and her family find themselves stranded in their compound without food, without protection from the United States military, and in constant fear for their lives. The age-old Filipino myth of Yamashito’s Gold claims that every house in the Philippines has a gold bar hidden in the house, presumably from Japanese loot during their Imperialist reign in Southeast Asia. 

There’s so much in the film that’s so imaginative, yet it’s set in a very real and historical moment. During the post-premiere Q&A, writer-director Kenneth Dagatan explains how he wanted to use his film to connect the experiences people were having during the pandemic with the experiences people had during World War II. 

“I was talking to my father about my grandfather, who was a drill sergeant back in World War II, and he was telling the story of his struggle with the war,” says Dagatan. “I was just sitting there, and it was in the middle of the pandemic, and I thought, ‘I can mirror what’s really happening during the pandemic — that feeling of claustrophobia and fear.’ People were feeling this during [the war].”     

In the midst of all the post-war recovery, a fellow countryman who worked with the Japanese Imperial Army — accompanied by several Japanese soldiers — threatens the family if they don’t tell him where the gold is hidden. So sets off Tala’s father, Aldo, to find help from the American liberators who just don’t seem to be present anywhere. When he doesn’t return for several weeks, and her mother falls extremely ill, Tala and her brother, Bayani, journey to find him. What Tala encounters instead, after getting separated from her brother, is a crafty and deceptive fairy under the guise and promise of magically helping her family get food, healing her mother, and bringing her father home safely.

(L-R) Darryl Yeo, Junxiang Huang, Bradley Liew, Bianca Balbuena Liew, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Kenneth Dagatan, Beauty Gonzalez, and Russell Morton attend the “In My Mother’s Skin” Premiere at Egyptian Theatre. Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Jasmine Curtis-Smith delivers a chilling yet magical performance as the flesh-eating fairy, and during the post-premiere discussion, she explains how she really identified with the character.

“When I first got the script, I was already told that I would be reading for the fairy, and I’ve always wanted to play out-of-the-box characters,” says Curtis-Smith. “It doesn’t matter how different I look, how grand the costume, how small the costume, as long as I can play a good role and something that will really be impactful for the story itself.” 

“And when I read it, I thought, ‘Wow, this fairy is consistent. She’s just not giving up, she’s clingy as hell,’ and I thought this would be fun to play. I’ve never played any role like this,” she continues. “The story focuses on that claustrophobia and the feeling of what we all felt throughout the pandemic — looking for hope but not really sure where to find it best, and we cling on to what’s there. That was playing in my head. I was going through sort of a similar feeling, so I thought, ‘Hey, let’s make it visual.’”     

Ultimately, what ensues ends up being the complete opposite of what Tala had hoped — to the utmost extreme — as this flesh-eating fairy intends on consuming her entire family, never to keep her false promises. Every time things don’t go according to plan as the fairy had promised, she offers further promises, which inevitably end in the same result: empty, broken, and never intended to be kept.

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