Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ang Pamana: The Inheritance – review

Director: Romeo Candido

First Released: 2006

Contains spoilers

Whilst we have seen depictions of aswang before, we should note that aswang is also used as an umbrella term for a variety of spirits, witches and vampire like creatures. In the case of this film aswang refers to a manananggal. As the film (which is a joint Philippine/Canadian production and primarily in English) deals with several creatures from Philippine folklore it gives us handy dandy references. I’ll breeze over kapre – a giant that lives n trees – and duwende – imp like creatures who live in small mounds of earth – but quote the manananggal descriptor fully:

“Sometimes referred to as aswang. An elemental creature described as a beautiful woman by day, capable of severing its torso from its legs to fly into the night of the full moon with huge bat wings to prey on pregnant women. The word originates from the malay word tanggal, which means “to remove”.

Caroline Mangosing as Lola Nena
The film itself starts with a woman, Lola Nena (Caroline Mangosing), dying in bed and then moves to snow-boarding. Johnny (Darrel Gamotin) is a young man of Philippines origin whose family moved to Canada. The family consists of him, his sister Ana (Nadine Villasin), dad (Tirso Cruz III) and mom (Jacklyn Jose). Mom is ill, and it seems it might be some kind of mental illness. Lola Nena was the kid’s maternal grandmother and her will must be read with three representatives of the family. Johnny and Ana must go to the Philippines for the funeral and reading of the will.

a hand appears
Before they go we see Johnny pocket some of mom’s pills and he is given a book to return. Once they have arrived in the Philippines and been picked up by an uncle and their cousin Vanessa (Phoemela Baranda), we see a sequence with a very young Johnny and Lola Nena, back in Canada, being taught from the book about aswang. He and his grandmother discuss his invisible friends, which she says she can see, and we see a clawed hand reaching from behind a door. Johnny wakes from his dream of the past and pops one of the pills.

the grandchildren
After the funeral, during the preparations for which Johnny has to sit with body and has what he thinks is a hallucinatory moment, they have the reading of the will. The three family branches are given different properties or land (to the disgruntled disgust of one sister, who feels hard done by). The three grandchildren are given joint ownership of the farm – and also responsibility for looking after Tommy (Nicco Lorenzo Garcia). The farm, it turns out, has a huge amount of land and a mansion.

a kapre
Tommy is a mentally disabled young man, who probably sees more than any of us would. As they stay in the farm, skeletons come popping out of the closet. Vanessa wants to use the property for growing weed. There is a ghostly presence in the house and Johnny becomes drawn deeper and deeper into local folklore. To get two main strands out of the way, Vanessa has three friends, Ronnie (Victor Neri), Paulo (Cholo Barretto) and Nico (Ketchup Eusebio). Nico manages to displease a kapre (Raul Dillo) and is killed – Johnny has to make reparations to the tree giant – and Ronnie becomes possessed by a duwende and has to be exorcised by a witch-woman.

The witch-woman had been in the film earlier. As the grandchildren explored the local market a woman (Lani Tapia) walks past Ana, waving her hand across her belly. Ana stops at an orchid shop and the witch-woman, who runs the shop – tries to foist a bottle of liquid on her. Vanessa later explains that it is an abortion tonic. Yes, Ana is pregnant and the woman was the manananggal.

sensing the ghost
When the witch-woman exorcises Ronnie, Vanessa asks her for a favour. The ghostly presence in the house is the ghost of Lola Nena and Vanessa wants it gone. The witch councils against it but Vanessa is insistent. It is about this time that, through the help of Tommy, Johnny comes to accept that he has the sight and tries to show Lola Nena to Ana. She cannot see but can feel a coldness in the air. It vanishes when the ghost is exorcised and, as well as getting rid of the ghost they have lost their protection.

A flash back tells us that Lola Nena’s husband (Alan Paule) had an affair with a maid (Angel Aquino) and she became pregnant. A vengeful Lola Nena took the child to the manananggal, later admonishing the girl for not locking her windows, and it seems that a deal was done that kept her own babies safe. Indeed she had told a very young Johnny that as long as they kept the peace then she (the manananggal) would sleep. It seems all bets are off. The flashback itself is pure exposition for the viewer; the characters are unaware of these events.

salting the lower half
Of course Ana is pregnant and becomes the target for the manananggal, who actually creeps up to her, passed out, as soon as Lola Nena’s ghost is banished. She does nothing to her then, as she is in human form. Johnny, having appeased the kapre, is told where the manananggal lives by the giant and goes to salt her – salt being a traditional weapon. He throws the salt at her left behind lower half – this seems to cause her pain in the upper half, but, of course, that half isn’t in her hut.

coming to get you
The upper half is at the farm and it is stalking Vanessa. Its very presence seems to cause the girl bleeding and I assume that it crawls so slowly towards her due to the fact that Johnny has injured the lower half as much as it was meant to build in a tension…

Does it get there…? You’ll have to watch the film which isn’t a bad little movie except… It really does throw the kitchen sink in with kapre, manananggal, duwende, ghosts and witch women. There seems to be a bit too much going on and it makes the film feel crowded. Candido does his best to draw characters up through the family skeletons but a narrower focus would have helped.

picture book
The effects are okay. The manananggal is shown probably the most and that is kept at the level of vague details mostly, the kapre is only really seen through Johnny’s video camera and the duwende are invisible. The film is low on scares, there is some nice atmospherics around the ghost – but it relies on the white shroud, black haired figure trope – there isn’t really enough time to get a real tension built around the manananggal and the kapre kill is over in a flash and all we see is victim reaction. Again a tighter focus on one element might have helped.

Yet this is still a fair watch and the soundtrack carries some nice mellow numbers by Candido himself. All told 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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