Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Di Ingon Nato (Not Like Us)

Di Ingon Nato (Not Like Us)
Directed and Written by Ivan Zaldarriaga and Brandon Relucio

Pretty much everything you can say through the mouthpiece of zombies, George Romero has: consumerist satire, dystopian nihilism, anti-science screed, first person shooter stress relief. You have oddments like Robin Campillo's terrific Les Revenants (They Came Back) that pass the trope through a sieve of melancholia, becoming instead a meditation on the dynamics of grief, but nearly everything else is a haggard riff of some law Romero's laid down, no matter how vibrant, how agog, how beloved.

Di Ingon Nato (Not Like Us) is a riff, too, but one that gets escape velocity from transposing its doomy sense of isolation to a rural milieu, and rural here means our far-flung Third World boondocks, where people get around on rickety diesel mopeds and beatup pickups, what passes for a hospital is an undermanned and under-equipped clinic, combat-readiness boils down to jungle knives and single-shot rifles, and no one is as steeped in the lore enough to know that head shots save bullets and buys time. And the zombies here are not the undead of legend, the sort these folks have names for and dispatch with magic, but rather the ones borne of unfathomable contagion and go viral at cheetah speeds. No social realist indie for miles has tapped into, as this has, the backward conditions and fatal ill-preparedness of half the country for any sort of calamity.

But its second half, set in a nameless town, where all this panic and vulnerability is meant to curdle into a delicious hysteria, is a badly-acted gruesomely-imagined crudely-staged shambling lack of anywhere to go. Granted, the version I saw was a work-in-progress, and you could snipe a volatile shape in all that meander and confusion, but many darlings need to be killed, and the editing prudent to the point of unmerciful, if any of this were to cohere, let alone survive its first half hour or so. Set in a nearby forest, where a farmer and his wife and their son eke out what meager life they can from the land, and an interloper darkness creeps in to upset their fragile balance, that half-hour is a gumbo of bucolic desolation shading inexorably into apocalyptic dread. It's an amazing, fearsome mixture. And a zombie riff with legs. Just too bad they had to go to town without it.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Directed by Loy Arcenas
Written by Rody Vera

Shutting yourself off from the world swings both ways, and one man's idyll can be another's cabin fever. These are the defenses built, the lines drawn, when the future gets bleak and the present starts corroding the past, and the question that bears down on the Lopez-Aranda family is how much of their corroded past should they give up and what bleak future will they get for it? There's a lot at stake with the question because the past in question has to do with the massive, crumbling house they live in and whether they can keep doing so, and the past tends to get pushier if it's as verdant as theirs. The gravely ill paterfamilias, in his own advanced stages of molt, used to be a congressman. And his sister, often lost in a cloud of her own making, a rock star among opera singers.

She's the whirlpool around whom everything and everyone revolves and bounces off : her brother who owns the house she now runs as if she did, the reckless son in partial has-been rot even before he becomes an also-ran but who remains her favorite, the grandson in whom she sees the most fervent of hopes not least when he puts on a Sto. Niño cape and crown as if it were a superhero costume and refuses to take it off, the ignored daughter who only wants a little more of her mother's love than she's getting, the niece returned from abroad determined to move on and sell the house that hovers over everything like a ghostly weight. Fides Cuyugan-Asensio is indomitable as the lapsed diva and her temperament becomes the film’s: skittish, fractious, wistful, elegant, and just the tiniest bit cuckoo.

Cut from the same genteel cloth as Ang Lee at the height of his infatuation with no-round-limit cross-generational family wrestling matches, but reined in to frustrate the demands of melodrama, Niño hones in on something more delicate, averse to bluster and way naughtier and funnier, hardly vacating the premises, but never letting the air stultify or thicken into must, finding rather a phantom power in the way the forward motion of youth and the luxuriant torpor of old age stare each other down to the same uneasy truce that is the emotional stalemate of the film's tangle of estrangements, bequeathing an impasse that you can see coming, resolves nothing, but gets unexpectedly magical anyway.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Directed by Jerrold Tarog
Written by Aloy Adlawan and Jerrold Tarog

If you go by the way he juiced up last year’s edition of the haggard Shake Rattle & Roll franchise with Punerarya, and also by the pop vibrancy of his independent non-genre work, Jerrold Tarog seems to have enough pedigree for remixing the beloved Peque Gallaga-Lore Reyes chestnut. And Aswang is ostensibly a monster movie, but it’s one that seems more interested in things other than its monsters: in the way revenge can transform you into the object of your violence, for one, in the imperatives of a species determined to arrest its extinction, in a small town living perpetually under threat, and above all, in the dissonances between the urban and the rural, the modern and the ancient, the natural and the supernatural, and the point when the lines between them blur.

It pivots on a teenage boy and his baby sister witnessing the cold-blooded massacre of their household. And having your parents murdered violently before your eyes turns out to be the shared tragedy of its principal characters, and also the tragedy that cracks everything open for a potentially bloodier, more mean-spirited sequel. But it’s a subtext that goes neither viral or nova, simmering rather under the skin of the piece, a trauma that never gets enough room to fester and seethe, nor gets to go anywhere really, as everyone is too busy running for their lives, if not from hired assassins, then inevitably from monsters, who shapeshift into crows, burrow under the ground like moles, sprout nasty fangs, eat live flesh. Aswang is also from Regal, after all. And it wants its monster movie to be interested in its monsters.

It doesn’t take a genius anymore, these days, or much intel for that matter, to second-guess the processes that transpire when a studio makes a film, much more one meant to be a tentpole. And Aswang is beset by the sort of push-pull that occurs when you wring a filmmaker used to being left to his own devices, or a filmmaker who simply has his own devices period, through the knotty caprices of our studio matriarchies, as auteurist sensibility and studio directive constantly arm-wrestle for dominance. And it can be its own bit of fun trying to figure out which is which.

That dream slash love sequence does smack of pure Regal. And the stable newbies as well as the not-so-newbies are perhaps why the affectless, effortless performances that have enlivened every single one of Jerrold’s films before this is alarmingly nowhere to be found and nearly breaks the back of the piece in its absence. The bristling attack by the river does spasm with Jerrold’s skittish vigor. And much as I can’t figure out why they bother when they can fly anyway, the burrowing under the ground to catch prey is a splendid effect that accounts for at least one breathtaking money shot. But it’s not so much the jittery brio of Confessional that Aswang taps into, but rather the meditative languor of the underrated Mangatyanan. And there’s a gravity to Aswang that slows it down some, possibly slower than it should be, but thickens the mood, too, until it gains, particularly in the sequences at the abandoned ranch where the monsters hole up, this weird, pungent density.

*Originally Published in Lagarista as Tropical Maladies.