Directed by Rico Maria Ilarde (Sa Ilalim Ng Cogon, Aquarium)
Starring Zanjoe Marudo (You Got Me!), Dimples Romana (Huling Pasada)
What the creatures that gnash and tumble through Rico Ilarde's features do is take irony into the woods and slits its throat. They’re tactile presences, these mud women and genetic fuckups and fish demons. They're context. They’re not meant to multitask as semiotic bullshit and be anything other than what they are upfront. In a more snide universe, calling them pulpy schlock amounts to a dis but in a universe that knows better they are pulpy schlock but they’re also what gives the work its frisson, its dissonance. B movies, say the scornful lazy. Fair enough. Unlike the kind Uwe Boll or Brett Ratner or Michael Bay shit through their noses, though, and more like what Monte Hellman or Francis Coppolla used to make for Roger Corman, this is genre, hundred proof, but with a bit more on its mind, more room to maneuver without wandering off into the kind of disdainful postmodern appropriation that is so chickenshit and dull. The interstitial complexities of his work are possessed by nothing short of true love for the genre, for its tropes. And the beauty of Sa Ilalim Ng Cogon, despite having me more - - -and having more, really - - - in the poignant taboo of its love story than the black science gone fuckup it converged with - - -and once converged became something else- - -was that, ultimately,it was a tricked-up Dr.Moreau riff and wore it proudly.
Altar is Rico's first haunted house, and a far grimmer, far grimier affair than the lush, pungent gumbo of Cogon, but still within his esthetic. There's repeating yourself and there's making the same movie over and over, like an exorcism rite, a honing and a purging both. The difference is the difference between formula and theme, between hack and auteur. Push Rico for the latter- - - because he is. And the movie he keeps making over and over is about the Everyman who flees the world that owes him by crossing over the weird precipice of another. Here, it's a prizefighter with no fight left in him, fallen from grace, sick with remorse, shrunk to drudge, soul in tatters. Too bad having read the virtually unchanged treatment a year back has dampened all the creepy goings-on for me. It's the boxer's pathos I chew on for resonance - - -the soul of Rico's movies has always been in the things he lets simmer under the genre tropes. And it's a chill up my spine when he tells the girl he loves his fate's not so much out of trespasses he's atoning for, more the butt of a mean joke the universe played. Flies to wanton gods. In a universe painted this black,any ghost that attic holds almost counts as relief. * * *
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