Identity and truth in a movie about monsters that scare from the waist up
The title definitely scares more than the concept: "Manananggal in Manila," translated roughly as "Monster in Manila" (roughly, that is, because there is no literal translation for a manananggal, a woman-by-day-monster-by-night that splits in half at midnight and flies around eating people's livers while leaving her legs lying around until sunrise when she returns to them), is essentially that, a monster in Manila.
But with a master like O'Hara taking charge of the production, this simple horror story--nothing could be more Filipino than a horror movie--turns into a thesis on identity and the morality of crossing the boundary between reality (us) and fiction (the movie), a transgression that is central to any successful horror or thriller. (look, for example at Psycho, or any other Hitchcock for that matter, which is most successful when it is most threatening.) O'Hara opens the movie with a masquerade, and we realize that the movie deals less with how to deal with a scary monster than with the duality of having a human and monster identities (which, in this case, could be considered a metaphor for class, gender, modernity, etc.). The miscegeny that becomes central to the story becomes more horrific when viewed as a violation of the boundaries that, for the film--and possibly the society that produced it--keep things in order.
O'Hara's wit is most evident in the scenes where the monster chooses to manifest itself. First is a crazy woman who pretends to be the monster donning wings made out of garbage bags. When the "real" monster shows up, lo and behold...she is donning garbage bags for wings. It's a witty way of dealing with budgetary shortage, pointing out the very "fakeness" of the wings instead of making things more realistic (a corrupt way of portraying film violence and a way that is proving to be a resilient trend in today's horror). Despite this, however, O'Hara respects the audience that he knows wants the chills first and foremost. When he comes out with his plastic wings, he doesn't bat an eye or "wink" at the camera. The effect is done in all earnest that, if not for O'Hara's over-the-top Gothic flourishes that have already been evident in an earlier movie, Fatime Buen Story, would have been mistaken for lack of imagination instead of bravery.
This is a very rough film, one that is more painful to watch for those already "schooled" in the Hollywood/East Asian way of making horror (realistic, slick, and professionally-done gore). But for those willing to reject the idea that well-made equals quality and meaningful gore makes you vomit, this could be a nice little side trip.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?