Saturday, July 28, 2012

Corazon: ang Unang Aswang - review

Director: Richard Somes

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

Just as he did in his 2008 film Yanggaw, director Richard Somes takes us on an intelligent and interesting look at the aswang myth in the film Corazon: ang Unang Aswang (or the first Aswang). Like the earlier film it doesn’t actually manage to tick all the right boxes – as I’ll discuss – but it does do a heck of a lot right.

The film is set in 1946 and there are several comments about the Japanese occupation, in many respects this is the tale of a community so shell-shocked through the atrocities of war and the pressures of occupation that they have turned inwardly onto themselves. It also led to some minor continuity issues (such as rather modern looking jewellery worn by lead character Daniel (Derek Ramsay)). It takes place in a small town called Magdelana, which services a farm or plantation owned by Matias (Mark Gil).

Derek Ramsay as Daniel
As the story starts Matias is thinking of letting the farm (and its ruined soil) go. Meanwhile Corazon (Erich Gonzales), a young woman who is married to Daniel, is at a local healers as she is being given a herbal infertility treatment. The woman, unfortunately, is leaving the area soon and mentions another woman, Herminia (Maria Isabel Lopez), who is said to deal in miracles. We see, out in the forest, Daniel capturing and killing a boar.

Corazon and Melinda
A young girl approaches Corazon, as she walks through the town, and starts a conversation with her. Her mother drags her away. The women state that Corazon and her mother were prostitutes for the Japanese and say Corazon has damaged her uterus through numerous abortions – actually there is no evidence that this is anything more than spiteful gossip, though we hear that Corazon’s mother vanished during the occupation. As Corazon leaves the town she is approached by a wild looking woman, Melinda (Tetchie Agbayani, who was in Yanggaw). The townsfolk turn on Melinda, throwing stones at her.

pain of a lost child
Talking to her father, who is seriously ill, Corazon discovers that Melinda had been part of the resistance to the Japanese and had been forced to watch her child being killed. This, he suggests, caused her to become the devil. There is also the rumour of cannibalism. He mentions boar’s heads being used to scare of the Japanese as they thought they were monsters. Anyway, to cut a long story short, her father dies and Corazon goes to Herminia, she follows the instructions and becomes pregnant. However the baby is stillborn. Corazon goes mad with grief, is turned upon by some of the town’s women and eventually runs into the forest and eats the baby. At this point she becomes aswang (though the word is not mentioned until the end of the film).

ang Unang Aswang
Is she an aswang – in her mind she has become something bad that will punish the village by killing and eating the children. Her hair goes wild, her teeth begin to blacken and her face becomes sallow, through living in the forest, rejecting personal hygiene and her raw meat diet – though, to be honest, at times she looks less like a forest mad woman and more a goth queen. She rips the head and skin from a massive boar (that Daniel had killed in his frustration at not being able to find his wife) and wears them, crawling on all fours at times, and leading to rumours of her transforming into an animal. She is not a supernatural being, but quite, quite mad.

in the forest
This I liked, it was an attempt to look at the aswang myth through a rationale, non-supernatural lens and it worked. The acting may not have hit the mark at all times, the story might have been too diluted with other issues happening and it might have come across as more drama than horror, but this concept worked well. What didn’t work as well was the overly saccharine ending. Perhaps what is needed is the stronger aspects of this film merged with the stronger aspects of Yanggaw – that would be a winner. Somes is clearly on a mission and I think he is eventually going to pull it off.

5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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