Thursday, November 22, 2018

Aswang – review

Director: Michael Laurin

Release date: 2018

Contains spoilers

This is a US/Philippines’ production that uses the traditional form of the aswang. The term aswang literally means monster and is both an overarching term for several folk creatures from the Philippines but also for a specific monster type often associated with the vampire.

You’ll see that in this there is an interesting merging of the western monster types (we see the aswang with standard vampire fangs at one point and it is called a type of ghoul at another) with various versions of the Philippines’ creature.

adults of the family
It begins with a family arriving in the Philippines. Tia (Shelene Atanacio) is from the area and married to Richard (Michael Laurin) and they have two kids Alice (Shannon Laurin) and David (John Michael Laurin). They have been met by Tia’s brother Vince (Merwin L. Gicain) who has taken them to meet Richard’s cousin Jake (Bryan Billy Boone), who has been over for two months fixing up Richard and Tia’s beach house. Unfortunately it isn’t finished yet and so Jake has hired the Liamol House – Vince is aghast and says they can’t stay there, it is rumoured to be haunted by aswang.

the Liamol House
They go to see the house and Richard describes it as the Addams House. The kids discover that there a cemetery in the backyard and the house itself looks absolutely decrepit. Local rumour is that it is built on a cemetery, as well as hosting one. When they get inside it clearly needs cleaning throughout. Why then they stay there when they have the beach house (which can’t be in any worse state) or, indeed, the offered opportunity to stay with Vince, is beyond me. Of course, there wouldn’t be a film if they did that.

Lady in white
The first night Alice wakes and sees a figure out back (it is later seen to be a lady in white). We also get visitations by a dog (also the aswang) and she shapeshifts quite a bit to be fair and in her lady in white (with veil) form she takes on Tia’s visage. Jake and the kids find pictures of Aswang in the basement and, of course, do the sensible thing and start playing Ouija boards down there and eventually the aswang puts Richard under her control. This is done with a combination of hypnosis, saliva through a kiss and bites. It is described as possession.

Merwin and the mananambal
A local young cop, Merwin (Christopher Eli Razo Hubahib), who is a friend of Tia’s, comes to the house as a corpse has been taken from a grave and he wants them to keep an eye out for anything strange going on. He tells Tia that it is the time when aswangs look to create other aswang and he also mentions a mananambal (Ernesto A. Tundaan) who is due to visit in a couple of days. A mananambal is a traditional healer/wizard and it is he that tries to help the family. What is interesting is that he uses a combination of traditional and Catholic aspects as he does this.

So, the aswang takes both the young form and an old lady form (Brigida H. Magalona) and can also appear as a shadow (which is a real rubbish looking sfx, just a person in a whole-body black suit). At one point we see her acting ghoul like by digging a nice meaty bone from a grave (though the graves looked too old to have such fresh occupants). To keep her at bay we get the use of garlic, oil (that boils in her presence) and to fight her we have a silver dagger and a sting ray tail. Whilst possessed Richard suddenly can speak tagalog.

fangs and blood tears
The set-up feels a tad false. The fact that they stay at the spooky house, ignore Tia’s family offer of a place to stay and do things like play Ouija board all seem a bit forced and silly. That said the pay off isn’t bad. This isn’t the best horror film put together but it does what it is trying to do and has quite a bleak outlook. The use of Western vampire fangs feels a tad put on for the US audience (not that other films don’t give aswang fangs, but it felt a little more appropriated in this). The acting wasn’t fantastic but it didn’t need to be. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On Demand @ Amazon US

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