Sunday, October 24, 2010

Yanggaw – review

Director: Richard Somes

Release date: 2008

Contains spoilers

Yanggaw is a Philippines movie that concerns the aswang. What is both remarkable and (in some respects) annoying about this film is how the aswang aspect almost takes a back seat. Yanggaw itself means affliction or infection.

As the film begins we see a healer go to a woman, Amor (Aleera Montalla), who is ill. She plays with her neck and ear and asks where she lives. Her co-worker suggests that she has been staying in Alegra. The healer is shocked, she wonders if Amor knew what sort of place that was and says she must go home – her ailment is serious.

Ronnie Lazaro as Junior
Junior (Ronnie Lazaro), who is Amor’s father, lives with his wife Inday (Tetchie Agbayani), his son Toto (Gio Respall) and Toto's wife Erma (Monet Gaston). There are also two younger children Leon (Leon Gaston) and Abner (Keith Cabañez) – it seemed one was Junior’s youngest son and the baby was Toto and Erma’s child. We see them eat a family meal and go to play volleyball against local headman Dulpo (Joel Torre). Through all this we get the impression that Junior is a very proud man.

Amor and Erma
We also see Junior and Toto chase a man, at night, whom they accuse of being a thief. They beat him and the next day Dulpo arrives with a couple of Barrio guards to ask about the beating – the man may lose his sight. Dulpo worries about reprisals. After he leaves, Amor arrives home and collapses. The family get a healer out who suggests pinning ginger on Amor’s clothes to keep bad winds away and mentions keeping the kids safe as aswang might be abroad. Junior believes in aswang and has a copper knife, as aswang fear such.

down with the sickness
For a while the film follows the life of the family. It seems that Junior believes he was cheated out of an election and left the barrio work. He scratches a living for his family. Amor has strong and weak days but we see her at night and she moves strangely in her bed, her head shaking and jerking. However, for the main the film languidly follows the family and this is were some of the weakness comes in. The character depth is good but the dialogue sometimes meanders without real purpose.

going to Lazarus
Amor seems to be getting worse and Junior wants to borrow money from Dulpo to take her to a hospital – Dulpo is the woman’s Godfather. Unfortunately he has none. Amor is hearing noises at night and has told Erma she is pregnant – she can smell the baby. Inday takes her to Lazarus (Erik Matti), a faith healer, who says to watch her for three days and then bring her back – and not to let anyone else treat her.

after eating the goat
However, that night she absconds from the house. Junior finds her the next morning, a goat ripped apart besides her and her mouth covered in blood. They take her to a nearby barrio, and the hospital, but they only believe she has a stomach infection and prescribe antibiotics. That night she vanishes again and the next day two barrio guards are found dead. Lazarus does see her again but can do nothing for her.

overtones of the exorcist
She is aswang, she was infected through the ear and whilst she is herself during the day she is a ravening beast at night, only caring about feeding her hunger. Actually, very much, she came across as though possessed – moments from the Exorcist were invoked by Aleera Montalla’s performance. At first they keep her chained up, preventing her from slaking her thirst for blood (which is directly mentioned) but eventually Junior cannot stand it. She is still his daughter. He unchains her asking that she promise not to take her own family.

Again the aswang is secondary to the impact the condition has on the family unit. We see the pain of a family falling apart due to forces outside their control and the massive emotions said forces command. However, again, this is a strength and a weakness in the film. The general direction is interesting but sometimes the film feels unfocused, lacking a specific route, with the dialogue circling unnaturally rather then being honed. In the main it works, at a very different pace to the horror films we are used to in the West, but perhaps a firmer hand should have been at the tiller.

The film clearly is of a low budget and director Richard Somes has managed to pull a ‘less is more’ approach to the movie. We do genuinely feel for the family and the pain they go through, especially from the mistakes they make. As I say, it just needed a little more focus. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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