J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

IndioBravo: Yanggaw

Every culture has their lycanthrope legend. In the Philippines, they have the aswang monsters, which are usually women and always savagely lethal. While falling prey to an aswang might be a gruesome fate, for one father, the anguish of watching his daughter succumb to the aswang affliction, the so-called yanggaw, is a far worse nightmare in Richard V. Somes’s Yanggaw, which screened during the IndioBravo Film Festival.

Living was hard enough for Amor’s provincial family before she was forced to return home, suffering from a mystery ailment. Briefly, her health seems to rebound in the loving environment provided by her father, Junior, a former local official. However, her condition soon degenerates precipitously. Unfortunately, even basic medical care represents a considerable economic sacrifice for Junior. In fact, his wife Inday prefers seeking the more reasonably priced services of local healers, causing friction between the worried parents.

Initially, it is not clear whether Amor’s malady is medical, paranormal, or even psychological. That uncertainty puts Junior in an agonizing position, made all the more desperate by his family’s subsistence standard of living. While Somes eventually tips his hand, Yanggaw keeps the audience off-balance for quite some time, wondering if they have been immersed in a world of the supernatural or the superstitious.

Clearly, Somes understands horror films are always scariest when they suggest rather show. While there are several on-screen killings, he films them in a manner that maintains the sense of mystery rather than reveling in gore. He effectively creates a mounting sense of anxiety from the unspeakable acts happening off-camera, including behind Amor’s door. The atmosphere is further heightened by the darkly foreboding environment. That jungle would be spooky at night even without an aswang on the prowl.

Though shot on a minimal budget, Yanggaw boasts a well-known Filipino cast, including the riveting Ronnie Lazaro as Junior, evoking the deep, primal dread of a parent fearing for their child’s safety. In truth, Junior’s family is very well cast, with the actors seemingly disappearing into the roles, which makes the disturbing scenes in their home all the more realistic and frightening.

Somes truly takes the audience to a new and unsettling place in Yanggaw. It is an intelligent horror film that deserves an audience beyond midnight screenings at fests. As part of the program at the inaugural IndioBravo Film Festival, Yanggaw nicely demonstrated the diversity of contemporary Filipino cinema.

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