Thursday, October 08, 2009

Surviving Evil – Review


Director: Terence Daw

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

The aswang is a Philippine’s vampire type and we have come across it before in the movie Aswang. Indeed aswang is a collective name covering a few different types of Philippine vampires, witches and were-dogs. This film does seem to draw some of its lore from the traditional lore but other bits it just simply invents.

The film (set on a Philippine island, though actually filmed in Durban) sees a tribe in a village. A woman is in labour, in a hut, and grasps a talisman. A storm starts dampening out the fires and suddenly a creature rips through the roof of the ‘maternity hut’ and other creatures slaughter the villagers.

Billy Zane as Seb BeazleyNext we see a film crew land to shoot a survival documentary starring Seb Beazley (Billy Zane). The rest of the crew are Rachel Rice (Louise Barnes) the director, Dex Simms (Colin Moss) the cameraman and Phoebe Drake (Christina Cole) the sound engineer. This is established as a long running show and Seb is very much his on-screen ‘boy scout who never grew up’ persona – brought alive by Zane’s performance. Zane, of course, was also in Bloodrayne and Vlad.

Also with them are local guide Joey (Joel Torre) and Cecilia (Natalie Jackson Mendoza). Cecilia is a zoology student who has been working with Joey. The boatman who brings them to the island won’t stay – he will return for them in six days – when Joey asks why he mentions aswang, but Joey is dismissive. Joey has brought the crew to this specific island to meet the local indigenous tribe, who still live a traditional lifestyle. However he has other reasons for being there.

Phoebe and CeciliaAt first the shoot goes well enough but we start to see tensions within the crew. Rachel likes a drink a little too much and is visibly jealous of the attention that Dex is giving Cecilia. It later transpires that Dex and Rachel had been in a relationship. Phoebe is late and has a pregnancy testing kit, when it is confirmed that she is pregnant we are also aware that the father is Seb, the baby conceived in a wrap party fumble, and Rachel doesn’t want him distracting by being told about his impending fatherhood.

victim in the ‘maternity hut’As this goes on we see shadowy figures and the crew start noticing strange noises at night, obscured movement in the trees in filmed footage and we see shadowy flashes of Aswang. Cecilia sees a woman in the forest at one point (dismissed by Joey as one of the tribe sneaking a peek). However, when Joey and Cecilia find the village (scouting ahead) it is deserted. Cecilia eventually finds the body of one person, the flesh stripped away, but Joey gives her a line about it was probably a capital punishment and the tribe will have up sticks and moved. This is despite the fact that he has found the carnage in the ‘maternity hut’, but he doesn’t want an evacuation as he still has something to do.

Cecilia seemed strangely silentStrangely Cecilia doesn’t say anything, despite hearing about a flesh torn human limb falling from a tree and onto Rachel when she was having a pee, on that same day. Also because she heard the boatman mention aswang. Also because she has had dreams where her parents were killed and she, as a little girl, was forced to walk through an aswang nest (Joey reminds her that her parents were killed in a car accident). Also because she saw the woman in the forest, as I mentioned.

Rachel and Cecilia being huntedDespite me not buying the motivation with regards her silence one thing this does well – due in no small part to the cast – is build a good level of characterisation. Joey, for instance, is looking for Japanese gold – that was buried during world war two – not because he is particularly greedy but because his wife needs medical care and he can’t afford it. The rest of the film builds quickly into an assault by the aswang on the humans.

flying aswangThe lore they offer is that aswang are subhuman creatures born of the evils from when the Spaniards discovered the Philippines. They are shapeshifters and this is used in film with them not only taking human form but also the form of dogs – perhaps fitting slightly in with the aswang/were-dog legends and also being a little like Western vampires becoming wolves. They can also develop wings – which was only in one scene and wasn’t very good cgi, to be honest.

aswang in detailThey drink blood and then eat the flesh of their victims and they are particularly drawn to the blood of pregnant women. This seems to be a twofold attraction as they seem to prefer that blood and also because they reproduce by impregnating pregnant women with their own kind. They nest together and are primarily tree-dwellers (and they are described using the v word at one point). They fear fire (and subsequently bright light from torches) and will not venture below ground – not a device really exploited in movie. Any mortal injury would seem to kill them.

early on we see shadowy flashes of the aswangThis was more a creature feature than a standard vampire type film. The film worked well enough but so much more could have been done with it. The effects were mostly okay but could have been better, the direction caught a build in tension well enough but could have carried more atmosphere and made said tension crescendo. Acting wise all the cast did more with the film than perhaps it deserved with primary mention to Billy Zane, Christina Cole and Natalie Jackson Mendoza.

This film to me wandered towards just above average, but could have been much more. Lore wise it lost touch with the traditional aswang and created something that was more like a magical monster. It is, however, still a vampire film, on the unusual edge – though only just. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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