In My Mother’s Skin is a new supernatural folk horror film from the Philippines that serves as a grim warning against giving in to pure evil in the form of a dark fairytale. Set in 1945, towards the end of WWII, the film presents a helpless Filipino family, with the young daughter Tala as the protagonist. With her father away from the house and severe shortage and sickness around, Tala has to make some choices that return to haunt her, very literally. There is really nothing remarkable or fantastic about the story that the film portrays, but the visuals and cinematic techniques used in In My Mother’s Skin do make it a very interesting watch.
Plot Summary: What is the film about?
In My Mother’s Skin sets the time and place at the very beginning, as the film takes place in the Philippines in 1945, towards the end of the Second World War. The Philippines had been under Japanese rule for the past three years, and the American army was now fighting to end the Japanese presence on the islands. Even though the Japanese are about to lose power, their generals and officials still hold power and influence over the natives of the land and are desperate to earn any wealth before their invasion finally ends. Amidst such a scenario, a local official visits the house of a wealthy Filipino man in search of something that would make him instantly rich. It has been believed that the wealthy man, named Aldo, stole some gold from the Japanese, which he has apparently hidden somewhere in his house or property.
Despite the local official, Antonio, being Filipino too, he intends to get hold of the gold and almost threatens Aldo and his family that if they do not hand over the treasure, then his Japanese army friends will surely come and raid their house, killing them in the process. Aldo is determined to hold on to his secret, though, and once Antonio has left, he decides to find some solution against the man. Against the wishes of his wife, Ligaya, and two young children, Tala and Bayani, Aldo leaves the house and sets out to seek help from the American soldiers, leaving his family in the hands of their trusted housemaid, Amor. Before his journey, Aldo promises that he will return soon and bestows the responsibility of handling a gun upon young Bayani if any emergency necessity for it arises.
Ligaya is very affected by the absence of her husband, and the woman gradually falls sick. A mysterious ailment takes over her body as she starts to cough up blood and gets almost bedridden. Perhaps her illness is due to the extreme shortage of food, but there is no solution to the problem either. With the war, and especially local conflicts, still going on, the outside world is too dangerous to travel to, and so the family has to spend days with only the very limited stock that they have. Tala, the elder child, has to now take responsibility for her younger brother while also finding some solution for her mother’s situation. One afternoon, she decides to leave her home in search of food, and Bayani also joins along with Aldo’s gun. While they are in search of food or any news of their father’s return, Tala stumbles upon a very different situation, one that poses an immediate solution to almost all the problems in her life.
What does Tala do to help her mother?
When out into the outside world, Tala and Bayani find themselves amidst thick forest areas and spots even filled with dead bodies. The deaths were still the effect of the war, or at least some of them. In the case of others, like the body of a young woman that Tala sees inside a small hut in the forest, there was definitely some other reason behind their demise. Inside this hut, Tala first sees a piece of candy neatly kept as if laid out only for her. The young girl does not hesitate to pick it up and place it inside her mouth, perhaps both out of hunger and also the desire to have something nice after such a long time. As she enjoys the candy, though, Tala notices someone walking by in the next room, and when she goes to check, the girl sees the body of the woman, covered by numerous cicadas.
Spooked by this scene, Tala leaves the place and, for a moment, hears her father call out to her in the forest, even seeing the man walk away. The girl follows in the same direction, while Bayani is distracted by something else, and the siblings get separated. While Bayani sees the creek with dead bodies and frightenedly runs back home, Tala is taken to a different old hut inside the forest. Inside the place, which seems to be an old run-down chapel with stained-glass windows, she once again sees a dead body before being approached by the being she had earlier seen a glance of. A woman dressed in rich, fancy clothes and having a magical glow to her appearance now emerges and communicates with Tala.
This woman is soon understood to be a forest fairy with strong magical powers, for she knows who Tala is and what she has been looking for. The fairy assures the young girl that Aldo is indeed safe in a faraway town, and she befriends Tala within some time. She reveals that all the cicadas in the forest are under her control, and it is through the insects that she gets to know about everything that goes on in the area. She also tells her that Bayani has safely reached home, and before Tala leaves the hut, the fairy reminds the girl that she can always reach out to her for help. Tala returns home, and Ligaya’s health deteriorates further that night. The young girl has already started to think of the worst—about her father getting killed and their family becoming more helpless. There is obviously one person in her mind all this while, though, and later at night, the fairy from the woods does appear once again.
Willing to help the girl, the fairy hands her a jar that contains a single cicada and tells her that this is the remedy for Ligaya’s illness. But she states that using the insect can also take over the woman’s body as easily as it can cure her ailment. Tala does not think much of this warning, and she chooses to take her own decision, just like the fairy tells her to. The young girl sneaks into her mother’s room the next night and opens the jar, letting the cicada crawl onto her mother’s face and then into her mouth. This action starts to have its effect very soon, for Ligaya wakes up with a jolt and throws up horribly, and within some time, the cicada visibly makes its way into her body and positions under her skin on her back. Over the next few minutes of In My Mother’s Skin, it becomes clear that the insect has actually taken control over Ligaya and in a supremely dangerous manner.
The mother starts to crawl around the house, turning into a monstrous state, looking for any flesh to dig her teeth into. She later kills and eats the family dog as well, making it very obvious that she has truly turned into a demonic creature. When the forest fairy later appears to Tala once again, and the girl confronts her about what had happened, she states that it was all part of the girl’s choice to save her mother by cheating on natural health. Although the folklore of In My Mother’s Skin is not mentioned or known to me, it is not difficult to get what the film portrays through its story.
The forest fairy dresses and behaves in a very beautiful and helpful manner, which does stick out initially in the otherwise dark and grim situation, both visually and plot-wise. But as Tala’s mother turns into a monster, the real nature of the fairy gets revealed, for she is not the caring and benevolent being that fairies are often expected to be. Instead, this entity is pure evil and essentially likes to take control of human beings and their bodies, making them attack and eat any living creature that they can find. After this violent meal, the human victims throw up a live bird, which the fairy then picks up and consumes. Therefore, the fairy survives by making victims out of the humans that she can find, and both Ligaya and a man shown at the very beginning of the film provide the bird as food for her.
But the process by which the fairy brings different people under her spell varies depending on her targets. Since Ligaya is restricted to her house because of the illness, the fairy takes control of her through the cicada that she gives to Tala as a remedy to cure her. However, in the case of the man at the beginning of the film, or even the dead woman seen by Tala in the hut, the fairy used a different tactic. In a world struck by war and resulting food shortages, the fairy offers a specific fruit to her victims to eat, who are then taken under her control. In this manner, she gets more people under her spell to throw up a bird for her consumption, until they die from the whole act and the fairy has to move on to her next target. This whole act seems to be a slightly different, and almost symbolic, portrayal of the fairy corrupting the souls of her victims and literally devouring them however many times she can before their deaths.
Why does the fairy not make Tala her victim initially?
In My Mother’s Skin does not very directly mention why the fairy does not take control of Tala immediately after she finds her, but there can definitely be reasons thought of. The evil fairy clearly takes control of people who are hungry, helpless, and desperate in their situations, and her intention is not just to devour them but also, in a way, toy around with them. When she first spots Tala and lures her into the first hut with the candy, the fairy could have taken control of her. However, she seems not to do so because she senses Tala’s genuine desperation to help her family, knowing that she can get more victims if she just plays around with the girl. But later on, after Tala makes her decision to believe in the lie of the cicada as a remedy and give it to her mother, the fairy does offer her the same fruit that she had given to others.
It seems like the fairy had been wanting to explore the extent to which Tala would do things to save her family, and once she was content with making the girl suffer, she now wanted to make her the next victim. It is also once mentioned by the fairy, after Tala makes the choice to save her mother, that the girl has now become a woman, and this can also be the reason why the fairy chooses to target her later, for she perhaps does not directly make victims out of children. Whether this transition into womanhood for Tala is due to any physical change in her body or the desperation and burden of responsibility in her mind, is not entirely clear. In the end, the fairy does offer a fruit to Tala and even shows her real form as an old witch when the girl initially turns down her offer.
What happens to the Japanese gold?
During this whole time, a subplot regarding the stolen Japanese gold had also been going on. Antonio, who had been eyeing the treasure for a very long time, had secretly employed the housemaid Amor to search for the gold inside the house. Helpless in her situation, since the politically powerful Antonio could help her survive the post-war world that would soon follow, Amor had agreed to betray her employers. However, the gold could not be found by the two during all their searches, leading to Antonio simply walking into the house with his gun one day. The man threatened to kill everyone if he was not informed about the gold’s location, and he did indeed shoot young Bayani dead. In response, the quick-witted Tala leads him to her mother’s room, where the woman, who had turned into a flesh-eating monster, had been held captive, resulting in his death.
At the very end of In My Mother’s Skin, Aldo returns home along with a Japanese officer, to whom he tells the location of the gold. Aldo had indeed stolen a stash of gold and had been hiding it inside his house, but had now decided to use it as leverage to ensure his family’s safety. He reveals that the gold had been hidden in a secret chamber under the altar at their house, and the Japanese officer gets hold of it as well. However, he then proceeds to shoot Aldo, ending any possible talks of sharing the treasure between themselves. In the end, it is the Japanese officer who walks away with the gold.
What happens to Tala and her family?
Tala loses her entire family because of the evil fairy and also because of the deplorable violence that men resort to during situations of war. After having turned into a monster, Ligaya attacked her own son, beheading him and eating up the rest of his body. Since Bayani had already been gravely injured by Antonio’s bullet by this time, the boy could not protect himself either and faced a terrible end. Under the maddening control of the fairy, Ligaya was also about to attack Tala too, when the girl pleaded with the fairy to stop this nightmare, and the mother’s possession was ended. As the cicada pierced out of her body and flew away, Ligaya lay dead on the floor of her house.
Grieved by the entire matter, Tala stayed hidden inside a room when Aldo and the Japanese officer came to their house the next morning. Seeing the dead remains of his son immediately made Aldo cry out in despair, and the selfish officer made use of this chance to kill him. Therefore, during In My Mother’s Skin‘s ending, Tala is the only one left alive among her family members, and she also decides not to still take the offer of the fairy. Instead of biting into the fruit, Tala lights a candle at the altar of their house, putting her faith in the holy, and this immediately makes the evil fruit dry up and shrivel. The young girl then walks out of her house with a lamp in her hand, deciding to navigate the world by herself instead of taking help from the evil fairy.