Friday, June 08, 2018

Aswang – review

Directors: Peque Gallaga & Lore Reyes

Release date: 1992

Contains spoilers

We are in the Philippines again for this 1992 outing for the Aswang and the version we see is really that part of the mythology that demonised the female (either for being too pretty or being too old – you really can’t win, sometimes) and looked to scapegoat child mortality and miscarriages.

The film was also called shapeshifter and this aswang really does shift shape – not just human form (old to young and other people) but a variety of animals (pigs, snakes and cats form part of the repertoire) and monsters. Unfortunately, it also throws in a kitchen sink of disjointed plot elements but we’ll come to that.

the ritual
So, we start off in the forest and an old woman (Lilia Cuntapay, Shake Rattle & Roll V & Island of the Living Dead) performs a ritual – at the end of which she becomes young (Alma Moreno). A group of men are having a party at the store. Emil (Joey Marquez, TikTik the Aswang Chronicles) is the subject of the celebration and we hear that his wife, Rosita (Janice de Belen, also TikTik the Aswang Chronicles, Shake rattle and Roll Fourteen: The Invasion & Tiyanak), is pregnant. It is hinted that the guys have bought him a gift and he goes into the forest to relieve himself.

monster form
In the forest he sees the beautiful form of the aswang and goes after her… so, to be fair, he brings his fate down on himself. He follows her for a while and, eventually, we see that she becomes a tusked anthropomorphic creature before becoming a pig. He is eventually attacked – the guys hear a scream and assume it is a woman and then something innocuous (the logic is strange, but hey ho). The attack is brutal, we see him ripped in half, still alive and trying to crawl away.

investigating home invasion
In Manilla, a child, Catlyn (Aiza Seguerra), is with her nanny, Veron (Manilyn Reynes), as the family driver Dudoy (Berting Labra) drives them home. Catlyn isn’t happy to be going home so early, until she is reminded that her father will be calling from a business trip in Tokyo. By the time they get back to the house we get the idea that Catlyn is a practical joker. When they get home the gates are open and a strange van parked there. Dudoy makes them wait in the car as he checks things out and we are soon seeing a scene of blood and the bodies of the maids. Unfortunately Veron follows him in, leaving Catlyn in the car. This is the scene of a robbery (and the security guard is in on it). Both Veron and Dudoy manage to get out again, the nanny witnessing from a vantage spot the murder of Catlyn’s mother. Catlyn also goes in and gets out but ends up confronting the robbers before escape. The three manage to get away.

on the roof
Rather than head to the police, Dudoy runs to his old village, where Catlyn’s father has a large house and where, coincidentally, Dudoy’s nephew Emil has just been killed. Of course the three get embroiled in the aswang malarkey (Catlyn becomes a target as the aswang likes to eat children) and, eventually, the robbers/murderers come after them (and we get a “Home Alone-lite” moment). And this is what I mean by the kitchen sink as the entire bit with the robbers was kind of unnecessary. It is also clear that Dudoy recognises the aswang from when he was young but we hear none of that story.

We do hear an older woman telling a cryptozoologist (Leo Martinez, Vampire Hookers) that the aswang vanished thirty years ago when a church was built but, as the church going population reduced to the point that the priest has left and the church is abandoned, the aswang has returned. We see the aswang both shapeshift and translocate, a video of the aswang as a young woman reveals her old form if played back in slo-mo. She is able to produce a long tongue to attack a pregnancy through a hole in the roof.

the aswang young
We do see a neck bite, during the day, and if the aswang is injured she must go back to her home before sunrise to heal. To prevent her return someone must sit at the top step of her hut holding salt. The salt will injure her if thrown at her. If she doesn’t get into the hut then she dies with the dawn in quite a fierce fire. There is a book that contains a way of warding the aswang, that Dudoy finds, but we don’t get any sense of how it works.

the aswang old
The robber plot could have been expunged from this, Dudoy’s background with the aswang explained and a good 30 minutes shaved off the film. As it is, however, it is overly long but still entertaining. The photography/film stock leaves a lot to be desired and I’m afraid that the fearsome visage of the aswang as the crone isn’t actually that fearsome; she’s just a lady of a certain age. However I was definitely entertained. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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