Movie: Pagpag, Siyam na Buhay

"Pagpag: Siyam na Buhay"

I feel like I’m going to get flack for saying this, but… I really didn’t like Pagpag. Mostly because I hated how they twisted the superstition of ‘pagpag,’ giving the new generation the wrong idea about it; but also because I wasted money on a film with a very flimsy story that makes no sense.

It’s not the worst film to come off the 2013 Metro Manila Film Festival, I still award that title to Kaleidoscope World, but it’s definitely not the best.

But before we go to what didn’t work, let me list down the things that the movie did right:

Pagpag knows how to shock. Unfortunately, after the first two times, the shock factor wore off. But early on in the film, it does the shock thing pretty well.

Number two, the film has Matet de Leon and Janus del Prado, the only two actors who does any acting in this head-scratching ‘horror’ film. Oh, sure, we can say the others ‘acted’ too, but it’s just Matet and Janus who actually gets any semblance of a fully-formed character.

Now, let’s start with the bad:

‘Pagpag’ the superstition is unnecessary to the plot. The producers just wanted a gimmick. And, in fact, one scene in the film looks obviously tacked on–the one where Matet’s character lists down the superstitions that the characters didn’t follow, making it plain to viewers how each one will be killed off.

The thing is, the film doesn’t need the superstitions. You have villains who made a pact with the devil. They need nine souls to be brought back to life. That’s a pretty solid premise right there. Forcing the superstition gimmick actually ruined the film’s potential.

Then again, even if the superstition gimmick worked, there’s the problem of the characters. Save for Matet’s and Janus’s character (whose names I can’t remember), none of the characters are likeable. Leni, our female lead, is stubborn and frigid. Which makes her lack of customer service know-how understandable, come to think of it.

Leni works as a proprietor of a funeral service business. She’s supposedly knows all about superstitions, but doesn’t believe in them. Regardless of this fact, as a service-oriented business person, she should still respect her clients, right? Well, she doesn’t. No wonder she’s not getting any business.

And then there’s Cedric. If you’re not a fan of Daniel Padilla, you’re going to hate his character right off the bat. He’s hot-headed, rash and unapologetic, he is unfeeling (which makes him perfect for Leni, I guess), and he never really thinks about what he does.

I’m not even going to list the other characters down. They’re canon-fodders, basic stereotypes of the jock, the bitch, the narcissist, and the fool–and they’re only in the movie so the villains have someone to kill before they move in on the two leads.

Come to think of it, Matet’s and Janus’s character might also be as flat as the others–except the two are such consummate actors that they were able to create something out of nothing.

Pagpag isn’t a horror film. A horror film scares you because you are made to believe that the events of the film can happen to you. Or, you know, because you care about the characters enough that you don’t want them to die. But there aren’t that many demon-worshipers who adhere to superstitions for us to actually be afraid of one coming after us. And we definitely don’t care about the characters enough (heck, we don’t even really know who they are) to be afraid for their lives.

The film is horrifying, sure, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s basically a film vehicle to pander to the fans of Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo. And it does the two a great disservice, since instead of improving their crafts, they’re relegated to a film that actually highlights their limitations as actors.

For example, Daniel Padilla should never act scared again. Or horrified. His rebel without a cause acting goes against the helplessness needed for a horror film. How’s a guy supposed to act apathetic when there’s a demon worshiper going after him?

And Kathryn Bernardo as self-sufficient and independent? The girl’s every movement screams damsel in distress. And what’s up with the bourgeois accent she’s trying to affect? She works at a funeral parlor for the not-so-rich–why can’t she talk like a normal Filipino?

I almost forgot Paulo Avelino is in this too. I feel sorry for the guy. Every time he gets a good project, it’s followed up by one that takes him back down to not-a-leading man status. GMA Network misused him, and ABS-CBN seems intent on never letting him shine brighter than its home-grown talents.

Had Pagpag been written with the actors’ strength in mind, and without the forced gimmick of using superstitions as a means to die, then the film might be a thousand times better. The fans of the Padilla-Bernardo love team deserves better. And woe to the parents of said fans who were forced to suffer through this film. (And people like me who had to make do with this because there was no Shake, Rattle and Roll film to go to.)

Movie: Shake, Rattle and Roll 13

"Shake Rattle and Roll 13"If last year’s installments of Shake, Rattle and Roll only had one servicable story, this year improves with two. Which makes it a shame that the film outfit who produces the franchise has gone on record to say that this will be the last Shake, Rattle and Roll. Well, maybe for now. True or not though, at least the franchise goes out with a bang with two great horror stories, instead of the usual one.

The great thing about this year’s Shake, Rattle and Roll is the fact that they start the film with the weakest story: “Tamawo“. The premise is this: a farm hand steals a crystal from these creatures who reside in the forest. He hides the crystal, poorly, and refuses to return it. He gets killed. Enter Zanjoe Marudo who gets called in a couple of days later to take on the farm hand’s duties. He brings his family with him because this is supposed to be their new beginning. Of course, whatever happened off screen doesn’t get mentioned–at all–so we don’t know what happened to them that they needed a new beginning. We don’t even know why Maricar Reyes is blind–just that she is.

After the lackluster opening of the creatures dining on the annoying farm hand, we go straight to melodramatic drivel with Zanjoe not liking his son Bugoy. We don’t know why either, except that he’s not supposedly really Zanjoe’s son. And then we head off to the forest with Bugoy who, having already seen the Tamawo creatures, still decides it’s a good idea to head off into the forest alone. And then the cliché kicks in: the Tamawo creatures want their crystal back or they will start killing people. Except they already started killing people. And by this time, we already know that the crystal is really an egg. And no amount of exposition from Celia Rodriguez will give this story much sense.

The story ends with Bugoy sacrificing himself to save his mother and younger sibling. Who is blind. And alone in the forest. Good thing Celia Rodriguez swoops in just in time to save the blind Maricar Reyes–even though she was established earlier to be the only character with sense. Meaning that she wouldn’t go in the forest without knowing that the Tamawo are already appeased. Which they are by Bugoy’s sacrifice–although they already killed three people versus the one egg that was stolen from them.

Basically “Tamawo” is a retelling of the “Nanay” episode from an earlier Shake, Rattle and Roll film; except this time, it has bad direction, bad lighting, bad acting– Let’s just say if you come in to the cinema late when watching this year’s Shake, Rattle and Roll, you did not miss out on anything.

Things take a turn for the better though with the second story, “Parola“, where an age-old feud between witches transcend time to take lives year after year. And while the story does have holes (especially near the end), it doesn’t detract from the fact that it is plotted well–even the late exposition near the end of the story helps create a foreboding vibe, instead of feeling like a last minute know-how to not confuse viewers. The pacing is solid, and lead actresses Louise delos Reyes and Kathryn Bernado give performances that are believable/realistic.

With horror movies, the less we see of the ghosts and other creatures, the scarier they are. But in “Parola“, the production team manages to keep the scare factor of the two witches even though they appear almost throughout the story. Heck, the way they treat the ghost of Dimples Romana’s witch is so exceptionally well done that her appearances will surprise you inspite of the anticipatory music’s presence. Some of the practical effects, like the wounds, could’ve been better–but all in all, this is one of the finest horror stories done in film. Now I feel bad that I hadn’t been able to see the Aswang movie they released a month ago.

The last story, “Rain, Rain, Go Away” wraps things up in a really awesome way by tying its horror story in with a real-life event: Typhoon Ondoy. But what’s really horrifying in this story is the fact that the inhumanity shown in the film is something that really does happen in real life. Here we have a married couple whose way of handling their employees leaves a lot to be desired; because of the logic that unsupervised stay-in employees will escape (and steal) from them during the night, they lock them up inside their living quarters. And so, during the height of Typhoon Ondoy, said employees were drowned inside the factory.

Because of this inhumanity, three spirits who couldn’t accept their fate haunts down the people involved in their death: the owners of the factory that took their life.

The third installment is very well made–and you really can’t expect less from the people behind Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank. But I do have some problems with certain things: Number 1 is the fact that Jay Manalo’s character does, ultimately, care for his employees. He asked his mother to ask the Mayor for help to let them out of the factory’s living quarters. It was his mother who said she can do nothing. I know ghosts are vengeful beings bent on retribution only, but this scene does rub me the wrong way as the ghosts aren’t seeking justice (as they are said to be)–they just want vengeance. On the other hand, this does make for a very effective horror device as you know that no amount of remorse or regret would stop them from killing you.

Number 2 is the autopsy incident. Well, there weren’t any autopsies shown–but we do get two police officers talking about autopsies at the scene of the crime. Within the hour of discovery of the body. My guess is, because of budgetary reasons, a scene that’s supposed to take place in a morgue (or, at the least, a police office setting) was transplanted to the scene of the crime.

My third, and main gripe with the story has to do with the act that started it all: Jay Manalo locking his employees up. The living quarters is a room–with no toilet. Ondoy happened on a Saturday, and the floods started in the morning. By 8 in the evening, the flood waters had already started to go down. And yet we see Jay locking the employees up on the night of the flood. But at the beginning of the story, Jay is out with his wife Eugene Domingo for their anniversary–which is why he couldn’t go to the factory himself to let the employees out. Who, during this anniversary celebration, lost the child in her womb. And yet the next day, Eugene is already accompanying Jay and his family in checking the destruction wreaked by the typhoon on the factory–and the carcasses of the stay-in employees who died. Somewhere along the way, the writer and the production team seem to have lost their way in trying to explain the events–and still tie it in with the events of Ondoy.

But overall though, if you don’t think about it logically, the third story is just as well made as the second one. And having two good stories in three is enough reason to catch this film in theaters. So do check out Shake,Rattle and Roll 13 before the Metro Manila Film Festival is over!