Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shake Rattle And Roll 13

Shake Rattle & Roll 13
Directed by Richard Somes, Jerrold Tarog and Chris Martinez
Written by Richard Somes and Aloy Adlawan, Maribel Ilag and Jerrold Tarog and Roselle Monteverde-Teo, Jerry Gracio

Part of the fun, and the frustration, in watching a studio tent-pole taken over, in the loosest sense, by someone outside its rank and file of yes men hacks is second-guessing where the auteur ends and the studio head begins. That’s three times the fun, and the frustration, when it comes to what is being roundly exalted as the last of the Shake Rattle And Roll milking cows, 13.

But, restraint having never been a prominent facet of Chris Martinez’ aesthetic, and much less so the literal sturm and drang of his episode, Rain Rain Go Away, it gets tough to tease him from all this grim J-Horror slow burn, or slow damp if you will, tougher when his muse Eugene Domingo reins in all her funny, too. Tough, and not a little disorienting, at least at first. But this may be the most cohesive of all three, and the one with the least signs of interference. It uses for grist the collateral damage of Ondoy, a tragedy that’s possibly freighted with as dreadful a resonance for us as 911 has for Americans, and certainly weighs heavily on the characters. And there’s a meta eeriness to having it come out in the fresh aftermath of a similar catastrophe. You can see where it’s going almost from the get-go, but it’s not so much the reveal here as it is the languid gloom with which we get there.

Richard Somes is really the one with the most vivid auteurist imprint, if only because it’s more immediate and apparent by dint of being largely visual. His Tamawo is anorexic, falters in the telling, and takes its time to finish, but there’s an energy unique to him at work here, a feral, pulpy vigor. Returned to the familiar terrain of his aswang inversion Yanggaw, with some of its supple expressionistic sexiness, as well as that mixture of the brutish and the maudlin that leavens his sense of drama and takes getting used to, you can tell it’s the knotty dynamics of the fractured family that he’d rather tap into, but settles for a siege film in which Maricar Reyes is a young mother whose ramshackle house in the jungle is surrounded by monsters. She also happens to be blind. And it’s a trope that Richard gets to exploit brilliantly once, in a scene that amounts to your bang for the buck in hardcore creepout.

Creepier still, and possibly more terrifying than water ghosts and albino monsters, in real life as it is here, is the ferocious boil riled-up estrogen can come to. This is what Jerrold Tarog buttresses Parola with. It does bear some of the strain from all the shape-shifting the script was likely made to undergo, apparent not least from how the eponymous haunted lighthouse has become incidental to the point of extraneous, buckling here and there from its multiple tiers of subtext lacking enough running time to layer cohesively. But it gets palpably malevolent when it reverts to its high school setting, and Kathryn Bernardo and Louise De Los Reyes get to play out their protracted supernatural catfight, with all that heightened and pent-up spite and malice and venom that leak out when best friends turn archenemies. Voodoo plus hormones, yeah. That’s not only a log line for a tween horror movie, that’s also the quintessence of what it’s like to be a girl.

*Originally published in Lagarista as The Last Horror Show

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Big Boy

Big Boy
Directed and Written by Shireen Seno

Shireen Seno isn’t joking, or being flippant, when she says Big Boy is about the tonic wonders of cod liver oil, as it sort of is. And she herself can vouch for its efficacies, having been made to drink it every day while growing up. She is now the tallest of her brothers and sisters. She is also the youngest. Her father underwent a similar regime and a similar surge of growth and is, in fact, the eponymous character. And if it comes on all gauzy and fugitive, the way memories do, it’s out of how that’s what it ostensibly is. An entire hope chest of them, really, strung together as if like pearls, or family heirlooms if you will, in this case Shireen’s, and more particularly, her father’s.

Memories of his life as a boy living with his parents and siblings in the sticks of postwar Mindoro, where every sun-baked day seemed to vibrate with the potential for benign incursions of the magical to occur, and time and again did. Memories, too, of the blissed-out inertia that occurs between transitions. Of the anxieties in finding your place as your country recuperates from its own brush with chaos and navigates its own displacement. And, more than anything else, of growing comfortable inside your own body even as it grows faster than you thought it would, leaving the rest of you behind as it does. Her father had always found his way into her work before but only here is his presence this specific, this situated. Rather than wander into one of his daughter’s stories, she’s wandered this time into his.

And she’d been, in fact, foraging in there for years. These are a mere handful of the fragments she’d been curating of her family’s oral history. But in nearly every one of them, childhood being eerily consensual, is a flicker of recognition, deepening resonances, brokering empathies. Big Boy does have a wobbly rope of plot if you get queasy from the lack of a graspable shape but it’s from the irrational un-structure that all its cathartic voltage emits. It’s not so much about memories as it is about the way memories behave and the way they look and feel and also the way they sometimes blur into their own autonomous dream soup. And much as the period detail has a severity of precision that often belies its minimalism, it gains from it, ironically enough, not a sense of historical accuracy, but an atemporal disconnect, as if we were watching home movies from some parallel world past, undercutting the homespun intimacies of the Super8 footage, not with a surge of nostalgia, as you might expect from the way it evokes at first blush the lulling voyeurism of Jonas Mekas but rather with a low hum of otherness, at turns spooky and beatific, which evokes not so much Mekas anymore but, well, Shireen’s own similarly haunted short work, all furtive rhythms with the consistency of ghosts.

Originally published at Lagarista as Mysterious Objects At Noon.