Nilalang is about an NBI agent who teams up with an heiress to a transnational organized crime syndicate in Japan to put a stop to the centuries old curse that may be responsible for the spate of serial killings happening in Manila.
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An expert in paranormal Emily Strand takes her team on their last ghost hunt to explain the supernatural. She finds her team terrorized in one of Americas most haunted places. Escaping from the supernatural is their only chance to survive.
NBI special crimes division agent Tony (Cesar Montano) encounters an evil entity which is bent on killing and torturing beautiful women, one of which was his girlfriend, years after he have thought to have killed the malevolent spirit. People close to Tony is in danger including his partner Jane (Meg Imperial), who has romantic interest towards him with everyone in the agency aware of this fact except for Tony. The spirit, who has killed many people in Japan, is thought to be targeting women from a certain clan of samurai. In Manila, Miyuki (Maria Ozawa) takes care of the family business while her younger sister is taking care of their aging father. Miyuki is later forced to help in the investigation regarding the murders after Akane went missing and their father was found dead to put of stop to the evil entity's killing spree.
It's sort of hard to figure out what exactly Nilalang is trying to be, but there is clearly an appeal around its ideas; this a horror film, except with a more lurid flavor that may come close to a Grindhouse schlock. It also showcases a few moments of fetishes to keep its personality. But either way, how the film delivers didn't work. Even with all the silliness behind the mystery and supernatural elements, the movie somehow takes itself a little too seriously to be fun. The lurid stuff are too tamed to assume it as an exploitation film. The production however looks nice, at least has something to merit around this mess, but it doesn't help enough overshadowing what's wrong with Nilalang.
Despite of having a higher production value, you can already sense from the very beginning that this movie is going to be one hell of a turkey. The acting is incredibly awkward, even in a soap operatic level. This prologue, while it does bring some strange violence, is just tough to take seriously. And this awkwardness doesn't stop when it segues to the next scenes; it's just a series of oddly put together cop movie tropes. The hero broods at the vague and ridiculous ways possible, the side characters are nothing memorable while one of them is supposed to be funny. The plot itself is basically just digging deeper with this supernatural threat, but how this villain does its work is shaky at best. There is one scene when the entity possesses an old lady, about to attack its heroes, but once she notices that they're holding a gun, she just instantly retreats like she doesn't have any particular plan to begin with. And there's more of these dumb moments that exist for the sake of bringing another set piece and nothing else.
It would have been fine if it's just a series of dumb set pieces, but the movie keeps stalling at smaller moments that doesn't quite help developing any characters or much impact to the plot. It also sometimes goes through some meaningless lingering. Like one scene when they're being served with tea, why did that scene take that long? Is it supposed to be a representation of culture or is it one of the film's showcased fetishes. Speaking of fetishes, the movie can't even let its flavor flourished enough, maybe it's just a violation of the MMFF's rules; but the movie would have given more strangeness on its sex and violence. We see a possessed police guy cutting his own tongue for no reason, why can't we have more of that? There is a scene where a naked woman dances over dead body, but the scene is too dark to see the surreal disorientation of the scene. And then we see more tamed foreplay and violent scenes with these generic looking monsters.
The movie is at least looks nice. You can really feel like it belongs to an international production. The camera-work is slick and the cinematography really captures a colder feel within these shots. The CGI is alright in this standard, though I kind of wished the monsters would look more inspired than this, but as typical local films go, this looks quite impressive enough. The acting, again, is awkward. Cesar Montano seems confused on his role, cannot decide between being over-the-top or being nonchalant. Maria Ozawa isn't given much to do here, despite of how much the promotions center her name, but her acting isn't very good, anyway. Maybe the only performance here that can be deemed as likable here is Meg Imperial, or maybe that's just me.
I wanted to like Nilalang. The production involved seems fascinating and the fact that this is a horror film coming into stranger and trashier territories might indicate that this can be fun. But it's not fun and the movie lingers to moments that doesn't provide enough gravity or sense to the story. It's just a ridiculous film that somehow refuses to embrace that nature. Yeah, we see Maria Ozawa having a duel with some kabuki warrior for some reason, but the movie remains stick-in-the-mud about everything, except for the forced comic reliefs, I guess. I might go far by calling this 2005's Alone in the Dark with better production work, except even the better visuals cannot gloss over its missteps. So yeah, it would have been easier if the movie just went full nutty, because nothing is really compelling about its drama nor scary about its horror.
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