As we grow into adulthood, we all face choices which decide who we are going to be. In Holy Emy though, the decisions aren’t as important as the end result.
Set in Athens, Holy Emy tells the story of Teresa (Hasmine Kilip) and her younger sister Emy (Abigail Loma), two sisters who are left alone when their mother returns to the Philippines. When Teresa suddenly becomes pregnant with the child of a Greek sailor, she remains accepted and loved by the Filipino Charismatic Catholic church where she attends. Feeling like she doesn’t belong there, Emy explores the home of Mrs. Christina, an elderly woman who runs alternative healing practice. As she explores her spiritual options, Emy’s openness to Mrs. Christina creates tension within the home amongst those who remain concerned about the mysterious forces that she could be awakening within her.
Directed by Ariceli Lemos, Holy Emy is a fascinating coming-of-age story that spirals into an exploration of the relationship between the Divine and humanit. With simplicity in her visuals, Lemos somehow manages to create an aura of both terror and wonder regarding the spiritual impact on the everyday lives of her characters. In other words, this is not a film which wants to offer the viewer wild special effects but instead chooses to give the spiritual world a far more realistic look. Admittedly, the film takes a while to truly get going. However, solid performances from leads Loma and Hasmine Kilip keep the film moving.
On the surface, Holy Emy is very much the story of two sisters as their relationship begins to take a new path. Having grown up together, both Emy and Teresa’s lives have always followed the same trajectory. However, as these young women approach adulthood, their paths begin to diverge, leading to an identity crisis within Emy. As Teresa’s pregnancy and on-again, off-again relationship with the father lead her to independence, Emy finds herself feeling somewhat lost and alone. When the effects of Emy’s spiritual journey begin to settle in though, Lemos’ film takes a decidedly more dramatic turn.
As a result, the film becomes a quite literal spiritual tug-of-war for Emy’s soul. Caught between the world of the Catholic church and the alternative healers, Emy is simply asking what it means to connect with the divine. However, at the same time, both Mrs. Christina and Teresa’s church cry out for her to commit to their practices. Whereas Mrs. Christina wants commitment to her teaching, Teresa’s church cries out in fear for her involvement with supernatural forces outside the church’s comfort levels. What’s more, both spiritual options also come with their own potential problems. Although Teresa’s church seems like a supportive place, so too do they also demand that you fit into their more restrictive ‘theological box’. At the same time, Mrs. Christina’s home may seem to fit Emy’s personality better yet she too is also demanding of her young protégé.
As a result, while the film opens to the door to the impact of the supernatural, it does not necessarily settle on a particular ‘side’ of the spiritual debate. As her spiritual influence begins to grow, Emy is portrayed as one who both heals and hurts. In other words, although she shows remarkable abilities to give life to others, so too does she possess the power to do damage to others. In this way, Lemos’ film refuses to either justify or demonize Emy’s choices. For Lemos, the most important aspect of Emy’s decision seems to be the discovery of what’s best for her in her own spiritual journey. In this way, the film offers no particular ‘agenda’ other than to suggest that perspective shapes one’s spiritual understanding and self-actualization.
In Holy Emy, the spiritual inquest is more important than the spiritual answers.
As a result, Holy Emy is an intriguing piece that revels in the in-between. While eventually Emy chooses her path (no spoilers), Lemos offers no definitive decision as to whether or not she agrees with her decision. Instead of focusing on her spiritual abilities, the aspect most celebrated within the film becomes the end result of Emy’s growth into her own person.
For Lemos, the destination becomes more important than the journey.
To hear our interview with director Araceli Lemos and star Abigail Loma, click here (YouTube) and here (podcast).
Holy Emy is now playing at AFI Fest ‘21 in Los Angeles.