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’s “Aswang” (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.
SIN OF COMMISSION
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.
MAGIC MAKE-UP, MAGIC HAIR
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!