Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Patient X – review

Director: Yam Lamas

Release Date: 2009

Contains spoilers

Sometimes a film can be really enjoyable despite obvious flaws. I am going to bitch and moan about certain aspects of Philippines’ film Patient X – for in truth they do deserve bitching and moaning about. However, some of these aspects came to mind after the film and some during. But despite them, I enjoyed this.

The film starts with a boy, Lukas (Miggy Legaspi), running through the forest. The camera shakes like nothing on earth and here we have bitch and moan number one. Shaky cameras, not just here but in later action scenes. That said they are used more sparingly than many other films and even in this scene the shaking camera is replaced by a smooth, overhead tracking shot. At this point I realise that Lamas knows what he is doing and hasn’t just thrown in shaky cameras to cover up poor photography. In short I can live with the occasional shaky camera as used.

Lukas is running with a woman called Guada (Cristine Reyes). He drops marbles and stops to pick them up. They eventually reach the gate to his house and a man, Marcus (Elvis Gutierrez), stands guard. Guada asks him what he has done. Lukas enters the house. His mother and father are dead and his brother James (Jake Angelo Vargas) holds two men off by waving a kitchen knife at them. Eventually they grab him and rip his guts out, eating his organs. Guada has Marcus leave Lukas alone but the man grabs his wrists, leaving some sort of residue behind.

burnt in custody
Cut to the present and Lukas (Richard Gutierrez) is now a Doctor in an ER. As we see him he has just lost a child on the resuscitation table. He is heading home when a cop, Minoy (Crispin Pineda), collars him. The chief of police in his old town, Alfred (TJ Trinidad), has caught his brother’s killer and wants him to head home. We see a scene thereafter that might be a dream but is actually Alfred electrocuting the prisoner and, when that does nothing, dousing her with petrol and setting her alight. Her body is crispy but still alive.

Guada has not aged
Lukas heads to his old town and, after a moment visiting his old house, goes to the hospital. People are evacuating despite heavy rains and the windows and doors are being barred. The head nurse, Betty (Miriam Quiambao), and Doctor, Jack (Nanding Josef), take him to the prisoner. She was caught when a group broke into Alfred’s house and killed his wife and child. Lukas has Betty unlock the room in the basement and goes in – the woman is Guada, she hasn’t aged since his childhood and most of her burns have healed. She tells Lukas that she is sorry for what happened to his family and gives him a pouch containing his marbles.

Alfred and Lukas
Lukas runs to the bathroom and vomits. Alfred, who has just returned from his wife’s wake, comes into the room. He had asked Lukas to come because Guada kept asking for him. He wants Lukas to discover where the others are (though clearly he is expecting them to come) and – more importantly – how to kill them. He gives them a name – aswang. Later, Guada tells Lukas they come from the mountains to feed and, when his family died, it was her fault as she had run away from Markus – her husband.

the aswang cometh
Of course, eventually Markus and his two brothers come. The building is locked down as best they can with just a few cops inside – the ones outside are killed – Betty, Jack, Alfred and Lukas – plus a little girl too weak to move and her mother. The electricity eventually is knocked out by the storm (it is unclear whether that happened accidentally or whether the aswang caused it) – necessitating a trip to the back-up generator. The film follows standard siege stuff.

the cops are goners
This is where bitch number two comes in. We do not know whether the hospital is in a mobile black spot or not but it certainly will have landlines. Why don’t the police call for back-up? Alfred (who incidentally is somewhat homicidally unstable, having lost his wife and child) just left a wake that appeared to be full of cops. Sheer weight of numbers would have saved the day but, made it a short film. It would not have been difficult to have a scene where the phones have clearly been knocked out.

driven mad with hunger
Lore wise we discover a little about the aswang through Guada. She starts fitting and vomiting black liquid. Lukas undoes her bonds to take her to the ER but she eventually gets loose. Her behaviour was not devised to gain escape but to feed – she is starving (probably exacerbated by her multiple injuries and healings). However, as drawn as she is to the humans in the hospital she stops herself from attacking and gets to the morgue, where she feeds on a cadaver. Then, having fully healed, she hints at the killing method – beheading.

beheading is the order of the day
Here is bitch number three. Why had Alfred not tried beheading her? He had shot her, electrocuted her and burnt her. He knew she was an aswang, so presumably knew folklore about them and, if not, he could have phoned a folklore expert. Hell, he might have seen 30 Days of Night - nothing lives without a head. This only struck me after watching the film, when I thought about it.

Miriam Quiambao as Nurse Betty
The last bitch and moan concerns how long it took the damn aswang to get in. Okay there are only three of them but they almost have a door open at one point. Lukas knocks them back using resuscitation pads and then blocks the door – with a wheelie trolley! Honestly it wouldn’t hold of a small child. Yet, despite this, I forgave the film and the reason is that it is a taught piece of cinema. The atmosphere and cinematography are top notch. There are story aspects I would have liked explaining however.

Richard Gutierrez as Lukas
Lukas has burn scars on his arm from the aswang residue – this seemed important, both when we first see them and later when we see aswang scratches on the same arm. What does it mean? Can the condition of being an aswang be passed on or are they another race? The film is silent on this and leaves it a mystery. It might explain the connection and chemistry between Lukas and Guada – or even Marcus, when Lukas was a child, declaring him as his. However, it isn’t answered and is less a bitch and moan and more a wish.

However, I enjoyed this. The characters were, in the main, 1 dimensional victims but that’s fine as it is a survival horror type and, as such, it did have the ambience I craved. If the bitches had been identified and sorted by the filmmakers this would have been a classic. Despite them Yam Lamas’ direction gets this to 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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