Saturday, June 30, 2018

Manananggal in Manila – review

Director: Mario O'Hara

Release date: 1997

Contains spoilers

This was a film hailing, as the title would suggest, from the Philippines and features the manananggal – the bat winged vampire woman whose bottom half is left behind as she searches the night for blood, viscera and babies.

The film struggles with effects, as we’ll see, but also struggles story-wise the viewer can piece it together but it is a bit of an old mess, I’m afraid, and the prologue doesn’t support the general storyline. So, with no further ado, the prologue…

Alma Concepcion as Bea
A title informs us that it is Maskara Festival and we are in Eastern Zamboanga, the year is 1896. The men who wear masks seemed to be facially disfigured when removed and a woman dances through ribbons, all the time laughing. A woman Bea (Alma Concepcion) awakens and calls through the house for Desidek (Tonton Gutierrez, Shake Rattle and Roll 9). She asks a servant where he is and she doesn’t know, so sends her to look for Filipa. Filipa is gone and Bea assumes the worst, she runs out into the night and curses Desidek, stating that she will hide in darkness and he will never find her.

Cutting to modern day Manila and Bea is a successful model who has built a familial backstory for herself and publicly proclaims her love for Randy (Poppo Lontoc). She is on shoot when she is told that someone called Desidek is phoning for her. Elsewhere, Timmy (Aiza Seguerra, Shake Rattle and Roll IV) is dropped of at the apartment she shares with her sister, Terry (Angelika Dela Cruz), by their uncle Gaspar (Edwin O'Hara). Terry is heavily pregnant. The new neighbour is moving in and later invites the siblings over for dinner – it is Bea. As they get to know each other Terry suggests she is married and her husband is in the States – it is a lie.

Timmy inspects a body
Cops, led by a Detective named Al (Mike Magat, Ang Panday), chase a group of armed robbers into a construction site. There is a gunfight, with most of the robbers taken down. With the last one, something flashes through the night and drags him away. The next day the last robber is found, hung from a beam by his feet. The lax police let Timmy wander up to the crime scene and have a good look at his eviscerated torso, his intestines have been removed (though we don’t see that, the camera remaining stubbornly behind the corpse). Stopping for a chat with Al, it appears that he used to be a security guard at her school and had a crush on Terry (coincidence that). Here we have a major issue with the film, the failure to make it believable; be it a school kid casually inspecting a crime scene (and the cops not making any effort to keep her away) or the scene where she is suddenly floating and everyone treats it like a minor ailment (rather than a breach of physics), plus the coincidence that Al’s father just happens to be a medicine man who can reverse Timmy's gravity defying condition.

feeding on the fetus 
Then there is the confusion around Desidek – cursed to never find Bea (it would seem), he finds, grabs her and forces a kiss – that she then reciprocates. He has a pig form (and pig-man form) but also seems to be sustained by viscera kept in Bea’s cauldron (that doubles as a coffee table) and the film eventually suggests that they are still in love, the relationship does invalidate the opening scenes. Bea is open about using magic to Terry and helps her relationship problems in an extreme manner. Terry's ex-boyfriend, Jonas (Eric Fructuoso), denies that he is their baby’s father and so Bea attacks his pregnant sister to make him appreciate the baby in Terry’s womb! We get a typical manananggal attack but the tongue appears to be a thin straw, later we see it as a thick, flexible and extremely long tongue.

fake manananggal
If you think that Bea might be after Terry’s baby, you are probably right – but not in the way you’d imagine. However, I won’t spoil that any more. I should mention the old woman dressed as a manananggal, arrested by Al, who then spits green gunk in his face when in gaol – what was that bright green stuff? Was she actually more supernatural and less mad old woman in fake wings? The film ain’t saying. We get some really atrocious effects around Bea’s manananggal form, though the movie was filmed on a budget. Animated bat shape across the night and inanimate acted form with giant wings and a massive prosthetic chin on Bea are both the order of the day. We do see a torso split away from the legs – though it isn’t well done – and the way to kill a manananggal would seem to be stake and burn, rather than prevent reattachment of the legs.

real manananggal
This was a less than impressive film from the Philippines, on many levels. However there were some effective moments too that, with a bit more budget and a lot more tightening of both the story and conveyance of the narrative, could have made for an effective movie. As it stands this is not the best thing I’ve seen, by a long shot. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

On Demand @ Amazon UK

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