Friday, March 16, 2012

Corazon: Ang Unang Aswang – Horror vs Lunacy

Daniel and Corazon (Derek Ramsay and Erich Gonzales) are an impassioned couple living their rustic lives in war ravaged Magdalena, a town where the preponderate fist of feudal landlord Matias (Mark Gil) rules. The latter’s occasional incursion is generating whispery hums of uprising from the barrio folk. While Daniel is a welcome presence, Corazon – a radiant beauty – is scorned by the gossipy women. Despite Corazon’s dainty demeanor, she bears the stigma of her departed mother believed to have had contentious sexual alliances with American and Japanese soldiers. But the people’s constant derision is not the least of Corazon’s concerns. After five year of marital bliss, Corazon remains childless; and the couple is getting desperate for a child.

One day, Corazon visits a hilot (Maria Isabel Lopez) notorious for performing unorthodox rituals and orasyons. She lends the statue of San Gerardo, the patron saint of expectant mothers, with very specific instructions: take the statue to a quiet place on a hill where, for a week, the expectant mother has to stay there and pray on the saint from dusk until dawn. Corazon did so and not long after, she starts infanticipating.

As land disputes heat up in Magdalena, Matias’ staunch critics start disappearing – and dying! But instead of turning to the despotic landlord, the barrio folk turn to a wandering lunatic named Melinda (Tetchie Agbayani) who has a reputation of being a witch. While defending Melinda from a violent crowd (Melinda was eventually killed, but not before she throws a “curse”), blood streams down Corazon’s legs. Did she lose the child?

The succeeding scenes show Corazon carrying her child to term. But when she gives birth, it was stillborn. The impact of their loss takes a toll on Corazon’s sanity as she refuses to bury her dead child. She carries the corpse around town to the consternation of the people who loathes her from the start. One day, Corazon raises the child and shouts to the heavens seeking retribution to her God: “Isasama ko ang aking anak sa aking paghihiganti sa Inyo!” Then she starts gobbling up until every morsel of flesh is consumed. Having crossed the dark line, Corazon is consumed by her craving for flesh. She soon hunts for live animals and eats them. When those didn’t suffice, she turns predator to the children of her barrio. Body count piles up and fear envelopes the land.

Daniel meanwhile is desperate to find his straying wife. His neighbors speak of tales alluding to Corazon and the disappearances of children in town. But Daniel is aware of a few things involving Matias and his gun-toting henchmen. Will he ever find Corazon before the people get to her?

Director Richard Somes is back with another Cimmerian tale that has become his trademark, and we were quite excited with “Corazon: Ang Unang Aswang”, a brave revisionist take on the genesis of the folkloric “aswang”, a Philippine mythical ghoul. "Aswang" has captured the imagination of international film makers like Wrye Martin and Barry Poltermann’sAswang” (1994, shot in Wisconsin, and had an entirely American cast) and the South African film “Surviving Evil” (directed by Terrence Daw, 2009) starring Billy Zane, Christina Cole and our own Joel Torre.


But what promises to be an immersive cinematic experience turns out to be an ugly film! Yes, ugly! The narrative elements are anarchic and sometimes, even aimless. Let’s take the character of Melinda, played by a ridiculously wigged Tetchie Agbayani. She was supposed to embody the powerful witch who curses the capricious crowd; the same crowd who discriminates her. Yet her “spell” didn’t even seem related to the cataclysm affecting the town. Another character is the hilot played by Maria Isabel Lopez, initially introduced as someone who performs dark incantations which turn out nothing more than devotional prayers to St. Gerard. Nothing is sinister by praying to a saint, is there? In fact, after one scene, Lopez disappears forever.


The most blatant sin of commission is the promise of horror, of evil. But Somes and co-scriptwriter Jerry Gracio seem befuddled – and even disoriented - with the concept of “insanity”, confusing it with a notion of pernicious evil. Since when are “insane people” considered “aswang”? Because if we were to really accept such reckless ideation, then we should all troop down to the National Center for Mental Health (Mental Hospital) and burn all their patients at the stakes to get rid of “aswangs”, debah? Schizophreniform disorders should never be construed analogous to the folkloric “aswang”! These items are poles apart! Or are Gracio and Somes suggesting that “aswangs” – with their vampiric appetites, pointy nails, overly long tongues, and winged forbearances - are mere psychiatric predicament? Nahihilo kayo, ‘te?


The film barely comes up with positive points: 1) a sumptuously dazzling cinematography (Hermann Claravall) – sun kissed summery scenes that reek with atmosphere; interiors and night shots with impeccable clarity; absolutely one of the most gorgeous camera work we’ve ever laid eyes on; 2) Mark Gil plays the nefarious haciendero with exact temperament; 3) the luminous Erich Gonzales who glistens in insightful splendor and subjugated emotional engagement. Her beauty and calm confidence cajoles the intermittently irritating narrative strain. Gonzales absolutely commits to her physical stipulation that her utter obedience is nothing less than eloquent. Unfortunately, even Gonzales’ brilliance is not enough to save a farcical, harebrained narrative.


The film is further hobbled by an uneven performance of majority of its cast which is characterized by exasperating histrionics (Sue Prado), overtly unregulated methodic role playing (the irritating Bodgie Pascua displaying to his adoring Batibot audience how it is to cough while eating and speaking – which is real talent); undue comedic delivery (Mon Confiado plays Berto; when he sees the “aswang” at the foot of his bed, he shouts “Ay aswang! Kamukha yun ni Corazon ah!” – the audience roared with laughter); rough vocal switches (Tetchie Agbayani as Melinda would hiss and growl like an animal, then just as easily revert back to her school-teacher speaking voice); the blank facies of its amateur extras. Then there’s Derek Ramsay whose emotional undertaking is displayed by his “smoldering gaze”. He’s angry – he smolders! He’s sad – he smolders! He’s disappointed – he smolders! He’s heartbroken – he smolders! Heck, if he smoldered more than he did in “Corazon”, he might as well turn into an igneous rock! Couldn’t the fantastic actress in Angelica Panganiban infuse a degree of role playing emotionality to Mr. Ramsay? Some tutorial in acting perhaps?


And why on earth is Derek Ramsay billed ahead of Erich Gonzales? Appearing in last year’s biggest blockbusters - “No Other Woman” and “Praybeyt Benjamin” – doesn’t necessarily make him more superior than Erich Gonzales in seniority or artistic capability. Neither was he the box office draw from the aforementioned films. People didn’t watch those films because it had Ramsay in them, heavens! Now he’s posturing with seductively understated threats as though he might as well move to TV-5 which didn’t exactly do wonders for Nora Aunor, Sharon Cuneta, Maricel Soriano, Dolphy and Aga Muhlach. What big movie did TV-5 produce – “Rosario”? That was 2 years ago! “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” was a tail ender and an artistic turkey at the recent MMFF box office race. More importantly, this movie is titled “Corazon Ang Unang Aswang”, not “Daniel: Ang Asawa ng Unang Aswang na Lukaret Lang Pala”! I’d say, let him move alongside talents like Arci Munoz, Alex Gonzaga, Eula Caballero, Danita Paner and Carla Humphries. He wouldn’t look too lost with them.


And then there’s the “here today, gone tomorrow” eye make-up of Corazon. When she’s feeding in wild abandon, the black and round eye shadows are thick and dark. When she speaks, these orbital discolorations almost disappear! Like magic! Is that the power of an “aswang”? LOL. In one scene, Derek and Epy find strands of hair beside the tree where Corazon ate her baby. “Kay Corazon ‘to,” they said. I stood and proudly declared, “It’s mine!” I was pulling hair in sheer disgust!

Bodgie Pascua distractingly coughs and eats and speaks for his Famas moment!


Anonymous said...

correction on your first sentence: "war ravaged Mercedes" -- Magdalena, right? :)

I have high respect for Richard Somes, with Yanggaw. But even though I found Corazon visually outstanding, there is really something wrong with the whole thing, especially script-wise.

1 - the concept of insanity and monstrosity... there's no portrayal of fantasy in this film, yet after corazon's insanity, suddenly parang she has super powers that allow her to do superhuman things. then, yun nga, yung baliw si corazon, tapos nakita lang ang asawa e di na baliw... samantalang OA kung makabaliw nung nagsasama pa sila sa bahay.

2 - the occasional inclusion of war references does not help deepen the script... lumalabas na pretentious para sakin kapag ganun. i would have preferred na nagstick na lang to genuine horror.

3 - i know rural stuff and monsters are trademarks of Somes, but I would like to see him do something different... his past films (Yanggaw, Ishmael, Tamawo, Corazon) are all set in interchangeable forest-like rural places, and all of them deal with ruralites and monsters (except Ishmael, pero may hints of dark horror pa rin).

nice try for Skylight Productions. at least this is more experimental than My Cactus Heart.

i am not so sure, but I think Corazon is trying to pull off something like Red Riding Hood or Snow White... yung childhood, traditional narratives na ginagawang mas humanistic, mas complex for an adult/more scholastic audience.

-jason laxamana said...

"Then there’s Derek Ramsay whose emotional undertaking is displayed by his “smoldering gaze”. He’s angry – he smolders! He’s sad – he smolders! He’s disappointed – he smolders! He’s heartbroken – he smolders! Heck, if he smoldered more than he did in “Corazon”, he might as well turn into an igneous rock! "

I laughed out loud at this paragraph. Hahaha. Indeed.

Yadu Karu said...


Cathy Pena said...

@ Jason:

I was desperate to write this down before getting lazy again. I have been for the last month or so. And ended up scribbling my thoughts at 3AM. Corrected the "Mercedes" already.

Actually the feudal strife reminded me of "Ishmael" (one of those "Hmmm I've seen this before" moments).

Corazon was an irritating watch, to be honest. It meandered where there should be plot-thickening and I was tempted to walk out. I hated what they made Erich do. That must have been a painful experience for her. What a truly obedient actress.

Richard Somes may have problems doing genres other than horror, and this is an example of how careless he could get in terms of narrative details, considering that this project took years in development! I am also curious why the veteran actors here were so bad, I hated even Epy Quizon who's usually reliable.

Cathy Pena said...


I am partial to volcanic rocks. LOL

Cathy Pena said...

@ Yadu Karu:


James said...

Hi Cathy, I agree with many of the things you said. For me, the way the story was told is not without merits. I especially liked the scene where the dog eats her puppy - a foreshadowing of things about to happen; and the (weird) comparison of corazon and daniel's strength thru their ability to kill a wild boar (or 'wrestle' with it); I even liked the idea of how a community (and the inherent evil and fear among its members?) could 'possibly' make an 'aswang' out of someone. Maybe i'm saying all these because I like Erich so much (but the bed scenes? I felt it was unnecessary - she looked liked Derek's younger I have a question though: in what scene was Maria Isabel 'introduced as someone who performs dark incantations'? the only scene I remember is that of the old woman saying something to this effect "iba ang pamamaraan nya...milagro (a reference to devotion?"

Cathy Pena said...

@ James:

If you're familiar with Richard Somes' previous works, then I am sure you would agree with me when I say that the "atmosphere" and setting in Magdalena is not exactly original thus it wasn't something I was jubilantly impressed with - simply because I've seen it before.

This isn't saying that they are bad scenes altogether; just nothing particularly fetching because of "scenic acquaintance". This is why I completely understand Jason (the previous poster and a film director himself) when he mentioned that he wished Somes would try a different genre. After all, we love honey bourbon baby back ribs, but if it's what we partake from day 1 to day 30, then we wouldn't be too ecstatically happy on day 31st.

Re: Maria isabel Lopez's scene - It wasn't a specific paragraph but the way the mood and staging of the scene involving the first hilot (Hermie Concepcion) who said that "iba ang pamamaraan nya..." and so on. The music, even the lighting, the facial expression, the emotional exposition, the way the camera pans around the characters - they were contextualized as such; an allusion to Lopez's ominous, albeit eccentric methods. But what is inscrutable about praying before a saint? We are Catholics, we do that on a regular basis. Or are we Filipinos preternatural for such peculiar practice?

We share our admiration for Erich Gonzales. I have always believed in her. My reviews of her previous films in this blog is a testament to how much we feel about her artistic capabilities - not to mention her very Pinay countenance and beauty. She's the perfect antithesis to the Caucasian veneer of Bea Alonzo, Angelica Panganiban, Julia Montes, Kristine Hermosa, Marian Rivera, Iza Calzado,

Unfortunately, Erich is wasted and played with in "Corazon". What's more insulting is she gets 2nd billing though she's the titular character - over someone (Derek Ramsay)who hasn't exactly topbilled in half a dozen headline-grabbing, high-profile teleseryes. What's more painful, he can't even discern one emotion from the next.

Though "Corazon" has its trifling merits (I enumerated those 3 meager points), they couldn't save the film from being ugly, irritating, wayward and consequently a waste of my time and money.

Christopher Aquino said...

You nailed it all on the head. Thanks to our dear Google for directing me to your blog. You now have a new follower. I also did a review on Corazon on my movie review blog (Pinoy Movie Blogger) but shied away from spoiling the film. I am not as effective as you when it comes to writing, but I think we shared the same sentiments (and complains) about the "horror" "drama" film.

I had high hopes for this film. I am a horror film fan and when you are then you usually have your defenses up. After the theater lights dims down, I usually and silently issue a challenge to the horror film I am watching to "impress me". When Corazon fails to even pull a simple jump scare, I already gave up all hope, because Erich, no matter how bad her make-up was never appeared threatening to me.

I rated the film a 4 out of 10 recommending that the Filipino movie going public should just give this one a pass. To wait until it gets a television release. Not worth the P130.00 ticket prize.

Cathy Pena said...

@ Christopher Aquino:

Thanks for the nice words. The film is such a wasted opportunity; it could have really soared had they threshed out the story. :)

4/10 is pretty dismal. I'm not exactly sure I'd prefer numerical ratings for myself, but I'd say it isn't too far from what I'd grade it if I had a 1 to 10 score board. :

James said...

I don't know why. But i'm impressed with the way you replied to my previous comment.haha. keep writing! :)

Cathy Pena said...

@ James:

Awww that's sweet. Thanks, James. :)

Anonymous said...

hindi bagay si derek ramsey maging townfolk, masyado syang perpekto.

"smouldering" LOL


Cathy Pena said...

@ Juan:

I know. Some aspects of the "perfect man" has to undercompensate. :)

Anonymous said...

"Then there’s Derek Ramsay whose emotional undertaking is displayed by his “smoldering gaze”. He’s angry – he smolders! He’s sad – he smolders! He’s disappointed – he smolders! He’s heartbroken – he smolders! Heck, if he smoldered more than he did in “Corazon”, he might as well turn into an igneous rock! "


at iba iba ung level ng acting nila. Hindi nag tutugma, ang pangit tuloy ng dating. Parang comedy.
Pero gusto ko acting ni Erich :-D
Magaling lalo na ung galaw ng ulo at mata niya. The best!!!

Cathy Pena said...


Spartacus Vengeance said...

I thought Corazon was nice and interesting movie after i saw the trailer on youtube but i read your review i totally lost interest on it. it worth the time and money to watch?

Cathy Pena said...

@ Spartacus:

We all have to agree that the trailer of "Corazon" easily catches fancy. I was excited to watch it because of the trailer. I am not going to recommend that people NOT watch it. People have to judge the film on their own. Go watch and let us know how you find it, ok? :)

sineasta said...

One of the problems I have with this film is TOO MUCH DRAMA! I can't say it enough, TOO MUCH DRAMA!

The supposedly horrific situation might have give way to the drama naturally, as in the case of Yanggaw, but the filmmakers didn't allow such natural course. They bombarded us with scene after scene drama and wall to wall dramatic music. Nakalimutan ko ngang I was watching a horror movie dapat. Para siyang MMK episode which I am sure would've created more horror than this one. Even the bed scene screams drama!

I guess this happens when Yanggaw goes mainstream. It might've been produced by the "indie arm" of Star Cinema, but it is way too mainstream than their average horror film. Gusto ko nang mag-walk out sa inis ko!

But the cinematography is stunning! Very un-Star Cinema! The texture and quality are incomparable to any Star Cinema movies. Sa umpisa ay mararamdaman mong di na nanonood ng SC film. Pero 'yun nga, the minute you stay longer, it'll remind you that it IS Star Cinema!

Cathy Pena said...

@ jheck:

I think this was a product of over conceptualization and they believed their stories too much that they eventually lost track of logic. :)

Anonymous said...

i like the concept but it would be better if they made it more realistic. sana for other film makers, please DO consider na kumuha nang TOTOONG actors, talking 'bout the "town's people", even supporting or extras lang sila malaki ding ang tulong sa movie and entire project. Pangit tuloy ng ibang scenes, horror ba talaga or comedy? ^^

Sayang din ang movie dahil sa kakulangan ng idea or ewan. Corazon: ang "unang" aswang. .but based sa story, it was mentioned that during/after the war, people were already eating the corpse of the soldiers. in fact it was mentioned that Melinda was one of them. .so Corazon is not the first aswang. SANA mas nag-isip pa sila nang ibang kwento 'di yong basta 'ito' eh OK na.
again, i like the concept but not the movie ^_^
~ juaNightwalker

Cathy Pena said...

@ JuaNightwalker:

Yes, I remember the strain about Melinda. It was supposedly a hearsay of what happened to Melissa - that she actually ate her dead child. Somehow you get the feeling that some parts of the story were written by a different person, others by another. They are incoherent.

I liked the concept as well and I was among the first to queue at the box office. Better luck next time I guess.

pinoy aswang said...

The story of the movie is interesting since it is talking about the first aswang that appeared in the country. The protagonist did well with her acting and that actress suits her role. I don't like his leading man though because his acting lacks some expression.

Cathy Pena said...

@ Pinoy aswang:

Interesting blogsite. I love folkloric references to local monsters. Re: movie, I have a problem with the way the story came about... and Derek Ramsay was hammy. :)