THE 2014 SINENG PAMBANSA HORROR PLUS FILM FEST AT A GLANCE

Film Notes
THE 2014 SINENG PAMBANSA HORROR PLUS FILM FEST AT A GLANCE
by Pablo A.Tariman

The good thing about this year’s Sineng Pambansa Horror Plus Film Festival is that you get to re-familiarize yourself with Philippine mythology and the attendant superstitions and beliefs that managed to remain in the countryside even to this day.

Posters of Sineng Pambansa 2014 Horror Plus Film Festival: a fairly good output despite time and budget constraints.

Posters of Sineng Pambansa 2014 Horror Plus Film Festival: a fairly good output despite time and budget constraints.

The arbularyos (quack doctors) and herbalists are present in Boy Vinarao’s “Bacao,” the tale of the beautiful woman who ages at day time is tackled in Gil Portes’s “Hukluban,” the services of espiritistas are used to solve a crime in Romy Suzara’s “Sigaw Sa Hatinggabi”and that much dreaded “tiyanak” of Philippine mythology is revived once more in Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes’s “T’yanak.”

The best thing about these entries is that for once, you savor countryside idyll for what they are worth in this age of pollution in the big city.

Vinarao’s “Bacao” takes us to the corn plantation of Isabela where a young couple played by Arnold Reyes and Michelle Madrigal have a hard time producing their first child. They are determined to have one but trouble is despite their big effort, the hope of having a child remains a dream.

Leo Martinez and Michelle Madrigal in Boy Vinarao's "Bacao": quack doctors practise their trade to this day.

Leo Martinez and Michelle Madrigal in Boy Vinarao’s “Bacao”: quack doctors practise their trade to this day.

The couple turns to an arbularyo played brilliantly by Leo Martinez and their dream of becoming parents turns into a nightmare.

Another couple played by Alvin Anson and Marife Necesito provides a big contrast. They have one child after another to the horror of the poor wife who has to cope with regular child-bearing, not to mention the constant advances of her insatiable husband.

Like it or not, this countryside scenario is the reason why Reproductive Health Law should be implemented soonest.

But that is another story.

In this film, Vinarao gives us the reality behind rural idyll. Behind the lush countryside is a portrait of a poor mother as virtual baby-maker and a husband constantly trying to prove his manhood by means fair and fowl.

Some marital scenes in “Bacao” are explicit but in this film, they blend with the way of life in the countryside. Madrigal and Reyes are natural actors the sizzling scenes manage to look spontaneous, not contrived, just for the sake of a love scene.

Anson gives a powerful performance as the lustful husband and symbol of macho authority and Necesito (unknown to this viewer) had her moments of sensitive portrayal as the battered wife.

Martinez’s arbularyo has double-edged layers: the one that subtly lures the patient in exchange for good results and the other side that “prescribes medicine” for ulterior motive. One must say that characters like him still exist in the rural areas.

If only for this slice of country life with a touching story on love and betrayal, Vinarao’s film is a good insight into love, lust and marriage in the countryside.

But with limited budget and so little time to produce, filmmakers in this festival can only do so much.

To be sure, “Bacao” can stand some refinements in scene transitions. Succeeding as it did in giving us some untold story of farmers behind the cornstalks, the film isn’t a disappointment.

* * *

The setting of Gil Portes’s “Hukluban” is another tribute to the beauty and mystery of the countryside. A view of the old houses and meandering river provides the film setting an authenticity which it needs to make the story credible.

Krista Miller and Kiko Matos in "Hukluban":  a long-winding story on a beautiful maiden at night and who ages at daytime

Krista Miller and Kiko Matos in “Hukluban”: a long-winding story on a beautiful maiden at night and who ages at daytime

With this natural setting, Portes reprises a tale of a woman who is a beauty to behold at night and turns into an aging grandma (“hukluban”) at daytime.

The storytelling takes a complicated turn as the viewers are brought to three different eras spanning over six generations.

The lead actors, Kiko Matos and Krista Miller, share the burden of making the characters alive and credible in every era, so to speak.

Matos and Miller give a fairly good portrayal in some generation but losing steam in another. You can sense that the director has no desire to shock or frighten but simply to tell a story of unrequited love through various times.

Many times over, the viewer is in the dark where the supernatural comes from and where the elements of Gothic horror reside.

It is possible that with time and budget constraints, certain elements of filmmaking were overlooked with very little time to fine-tune, refine or revise.

As it is, the film invites us to various times in the country’s history when love was pure and maddening and later tragic.

To be sure, Matos fares well as the country swain and Miller as the countryside maiden. How they got so close to end up making love so ferociously is a question lurking in the viewer’s mind.

“Hukluban” is a beautiful tale of love with complicated turns but it is just as well that we get to view this film with some questions waiting to be answered. The director is probably saying that some stories can stand on their own without being glossed over by cinematic devices already known to followers of horror films.

One is sure Direk Portes has a reason for telling the story his own way and preferring to unravel it without attempting to scare the viewers.

After all, film is a director’s medium and one respects the path “Hukluban” has taken.

Watching a film is always an education and treated to this output with unusual storytelling, one is compelled to be more discerning and more understanding of the plight of projects with time and budget constraints.

With another viewing perhaps, we will see the point.

* * *

A highly commendable output in the horror fest is Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes’s “T’yanak” which is a revival of their 1988 film on the same subject.

Director Peque Gallaga with baby monster and Solenn Heusaff: "T'yanak" turns out to be the most frightening entry in the horror film fest.

Director Peque Gallaga with baby monster and Solenn Heusaff: “T’yanak” turns out to be the most frightening entry in the horror film fest.

This version is “T’yanak” in the age of computers and internet and naturally, the highly educated folks (portrayed by Judy Anne Santos, Solenne Heusseff and Tom Rodriguez) will not have any of this nonsense.

Until something happened to the wife of widower played by Sid Lucero and a curious boy witnessed the death of the matriarch played by Liza Lorena, the unbelievable begins to have a semblance of truth in it.

Of all the entries in the horror fest, “T’yanak” truly frightens and it is to the credit of the filmmakers that they made sure it has what it takes to suspend disbelief in this nearly forgotten monster in Philippine folklore.

Apart from superb direction, “T’yanak” has good cinematography and an astounding film scoring by Tom Vinoya.

For another, the directors were able to extract the best from the performances of Santos, Rodriguez and Heusseff, among others.

As it is, “T’yanak” is an example of an output of a good creative team not daunted by time and budget constraints.

The Sineng Pambansa Horror Plus Film Festival, a flagship of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, will end Tuesday, November 4, 2014. Entries are still showing today until tomorrow.

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