January 4, 2012
As my usual custom, I was able to catch the "other" horror" movie offering in the 2012 Metro Manila Film Fest. The "other" meaning the one that is not "Shake Rattle and Roll," a single edition of which I honestly have not seen in its 15 incarnations over the years. This year this movie was entitled "The Strangers." It was one of the films that did not get any awards during the ceremony, but of course, it did not stop me since these are the same awards which snubbed the excellent "Thy Womb" from any of the Best Picture slots.
I only had a vague idea of what the movie was about. This apparently had something to do with the local mythological creature called the "aswang," which had just been tackled in another critical favorite recently released called "Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles," which I had unfortunately missed. Too bad, it would have been interesting to compare how similarly or differently these two films reinterpret this character, which had been a staple of local horror films since back in the day.
"The Strangers" did not take time to reveal the enemy. The sequence before the opening credits already showed an aswang attack on a young barrio couple. By a voice-over narration, the husband (Enchong Dee) supposedly survived the attack and is now an aswang himself. Scene shifts to a road trip by a typical family going to a remote town called Murcia. The couple (played by Cherrie Pie Picache and Johnny Revilla) had two kids Max (Enrique Gil) and Pat (Julia Montes) who are celebrating their 18th birthday on this trip. They were traveling with their grandfather (Jaime Fabregas) and his caregiver (Janice de Belen).
Being a horror film, their trip takes a turn to the worse. First, their van hits a woman on the bridge, then later the engine breaks down in the middle of the jungle. Of course, you know what goes on from there when night eventually falls. Members of their party goes missing one by one, getting killed by booby traps set all over the jungle. A family who lived in that area (Art Acuna, Tanya Gomez and JM de Guzman) gives the strangers shelter for the night. Will these people ever see the light of the next day as the aswangs all go on a wild rampage that night?
This is not exactly an acting piece as everyone just goes for the usual screaming and shouting route of horror film victims. Only Janice de Belen really stands out as the delightful comic relief. Johnny Revilla is remarkably constipated as the harassed dad. The script does not really tell us the reason or the background of what we see transpire during the film. I do not mean that it should spoon-feed us all the details, but I think there should be significance in the events that occur in the set-up that can help us accept and appreciate the climax. I think it is not fair to make the audience jump to a totally out-of-the-blue climax where no clues, no matter how subtle, had been laid out previously.
Overall though, it was okay, quite entertaining. It had all the requisites: the dark jungle setting, the violent aswangs on the attack, the gruesome booby traps, the gory corpses, the sudden jump music effects. You will feel the eerie atmosphere and get creeped out, well most of the time. Just do not get bothered too much with the gamut of continuity issues throughout the film (like, how did Enrique Gil join Art Acuna's posse, when he was supposed to be back at the house with his mother?). And try not to be amused by some make-up issues like Enchong Dee's beard or those incompletely-transformed aswangs. OK, their aswang make-up is not exactly realistic but they do try hard. It had the feeling that they were trying to recreate Rick Baker's work in "American Werewolf in London", but of course that film's Oscar -winning make-up was done way back 1981!