Friday, March 23, 2012

Aswang – review

Director: Jerrold Tarog

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

This is a Filipino movie and a loose reimagining of the Gallaga and Reyes 1992 film of the same name (I’m, at time of review, still trying to hunt that film down).

The first thing to note is that the term aswang can be, very much, an over-arching name or, perhaps the best way to describe it is, a genus. The actual creatures in this are called Abwak, in film, or Aswang-Bayawak-Uwak, as the DVD blurb labels them.

Manuel in the field
The film starts with a voice telling us that *we* are considered imaginary but *we* await a time to return. In a field a blind woman, Guada (Kalila Aguilos), and her husband, Manuel (Jake Macapagal), sit beneath a shelter. She ties his headscarf for him and then he goes to work the fields as she makes her way on her business. A crow caws. He sees two young girls at the edge of the field, he looks away and then there is only one there. Suddenly something is moving below the earth towards him. He runs and Guada, hearing the commotion, yells about reaching the rocks. It is too late, the earth opens below him and he is dragged in.

the gang
In a vehicle, outside a house, sit Gido (Marc Abaya), Queenie (Niña Jose) and Daniel (Paulo Avelino), they all have guns. Inside the house Gabriel (Albie Casiño), a teen, studies whilst his little sister Ahnia (Jillian Ward) plays a video game. Their father, an attorney, gets home. This is a cue for the three villains to approach the house. Daniel waits outside as Gido and Queenie assassinate servants and family members alike. However the children manage to get out of the house and into their father’s car. Daniel cannot bring himself to shoot and they get away.

An abwak
They manage to get into Manila, but Gabriel’s father suggested that he should not rely on the police if anything ever happened and it does, as he contemplates going in, look like they are corrupt. He decides to drive to their uncle's house. Unfortunately, out in the country, they run out of petrol. They sleep in the car for the night. During the night a drunken man from a nearby town, is attacked by an Abwak.

Lovi Poe as Hasmin
In the morning they are awoken by a procession going past. They follow it and pass a plantation gate. A young woman, Hasmin (Lovi Poe), sees them and follows the procession. Suddenly there is the sound of crows and the villagers spot movement under the earth heading towards them. The people in the procession run as the Abwaks are hunting. Hasmin takes Gabriel and Ahnia to an old woman’s home for safety – she happens to be Guada (Gigi Escalante). Meanwhile the three killers have found the abandoned car and get to the town.

Paulo Avelino as Daniel
So, as things move along we have the killers looking to tie up loose ends (the kids) but Daniel – whose heart isn’t in it – falling for Hasmin. The film actually gives us a lot of backstory for Daniel; the son of a murdered security guard he hunted down his father’s killers, was caught and forced to work for the very organisation that had his father killed. As for Hasmin, it isn’t a shocker to learn that she is an Abwak, but she doesn’t eat. She is being forced to marry an ancient Abwak, Moises (Bembol Roco), as she is a rarity – one who can make other Abwaks…

Hasmin reveals her Abwak nature
As for the monsters, they can take the form of crows or lizards that run below the earth. They normally hunt later in the year but they have started early (this is not gone into in depth). The mayor of the town is meant to be covering the roads with concrete to make the town safe (though this will only prevent underground attacks) but has not sorted the roads in the poorer area of the town.

Moises and Hasmin
Hasmin creates another by tonging them with a long lizard tongue and the Abwaks develop red eyes and scaly skin when in their true form. Head shots seem to be the best way to kill them (though Hasmin looks set to stab Moises). They eat humans and will sometimes eek the kill out over days – one captured character is told that they will wait to drink her blood until the third day, eating bits of her flesh whilst she still lives.

Bloody mouth
The film looks a little cheap – due to the video camera shooting – and the acting is not brilliant, however the leads (Avelino and Poe) are charismatic enough to carry their parts. There is plenty I wish they had gone deeper into – mainly around the Abwaks, their society, the arranged marriage and why they were hunting early. However the film throws several story strands at you in order to keep the viewer interested and I didn’t find the long running time (111 minutes) dragging.

It is always good to get a look at the complex mythology of the Aswang and whilst I wish this had shone more of a light on the creature than it did I can say it was interesting for what it did offer. 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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