Monday, August 27, 2012

Tara Illenberger's Guni Guni - Busy Exposition in Narrative Clutter

Mylene (Lovi Poe) glides through her life with unruffled sobriety. On cursory glance, everything’s a bed of roses for the statuesque medical student: she tops her tough class; she nurtures a seemingly loving relationship with boyfriend/classmate Paolo (Benjamin Alves); and her best friend Joanna (Empress Schuck) is a constantly unwavering presence. But she has disquieting secrets. She possesses a scar that runs the whole length of her torso down to her flank. She would occasionally fight off suicidal tendencies. Moreover, she collects human body parts from her school’s janitor Jonas. However, these gifts come with a dear price. But why such emotional upheavals?

Mylene’s troubles don’t end there. Her rent hasn’t been paid for two months and her promissory note has been rejected. “Ikaw na lang ang ‘di nakakapagbayad at hindi makakakuha ng exams,” reminded the cashier. Meanwhile, on their first year anniversary, boyfriend Paolo is determined to get into her pants. When she stalls, he walks out and leaves her stranded on a remote field. Such frustration.

People at her boarding house have secrets of their own. Her landlord Tatay Nanding (Jaime Fabregas) who’s afflicted with Alzheimer seems to be feeding raw meat to a creature that’s buried at his backyard garden. Mrs. Arevalo (Gina Alajar) cryptically waits for her son Javier’s (Guji Lorenzana) intermittent visits. Nanny Vangie (Julia Clarete) diligently follows after her mentally challenged ward JJ (Gerald Pesigan), all the while pining for the affection of JJ’s father (Neil Ryan Sese), a detail man in Tarlac. Meanwhile, Joanna (Empress) could feel the restless presence of wandering souls all around her. When a new girl (Ria Garcia) arrives to rent an available room, mysteries further rankle the already muddled scenario. And our characters start dropping like flies.    

Paolo: the impatient lover

Tara Illenberger is one of the industry's most prolific film editors, and editors usually make great directors. It comes with the territory of judiciously using pieces of a story to make a coherent whole. This was why it was a thrill to hear about Illenberger's first mainstream project. Unfortunately, Illenberger's "Guni Guni" (Figment) is a product of an over eager storyteller. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to point out a singular narrative strain more urgent than the next. There are too many disparate concepts that don't mesh well with the individual predicament of our characters. The by-product is one messy cinematic experience that's more tiresome than frightful.

Are we discoursing about guilt? Retribution, maybe? Alienation? Insanity? Are we dealing with ominous fixations? If the answers are all "yes", then we know there's a problem. A film has to have a single focus. In "Guni Guni" however, there are several creatures that go bump in the night: and every single character is hounded by them; there's the eye-enucleating, sexually starved doppelganger with eyes made of tin foil hastily pasted over the lids; the Juon-patterned ashen faced child ghost; there's the aborted fetus; the visiting ghost of a son, etc. There's also a bevy of issues not directly related to the horrific premise - like the infanticipating Alicia (Ria Garcia) who underwent a simplistic dilatation and curettage procedure from medical student Mylene - or did she? Her story came and went without much fanfare. In fact, you could rid of Alicia's character without disrupting the flow of the story. Why was she there in the first place?


Mylene is collecting human body parts that would somehow physically re-construct Myra, her Siamese twin; these would approximate her physical persona had Myra survived. You see, Mylene was born a conjoined twin, but her twin Myra had to be sacrificed because they shared a single heart. "Ikaw ang pinili ko kasi napakaganda mo, anak," explained their looney mother (Isay Alvarez) who's mentally scarred for life for doing so.

In the film, you'll find a medical class whose only subject lingers around twins - as though they are specializing in Twinology more than treating the sick body. And if it isn't serendipitous enough, Dr. Gonzaga (Chinggoy Alonzo) isn't just Mylene's didactic professor; he was also the same doctor who separated Mylene from twin Myra some 20 years ago. Doesn't this shake you to the core? Are you still following me? :) Moreover, there's a best friend with a 3rd eye. Her senses are too acutely aware of the spirits moving around the house, yet she never unravels any of the mysteries surrounding them. How useless naman, debah?  

Joanna feels the presence of ghosts.
Mylene buys Tatay nanding's meat.

Lovi Poe inhabits Mylene with enigmatic chagrin, but something about her guilt - or lunacy - doesn't rope you into her life. She inspires detachment more than empathy, thanks to the muddled character development. Benjamin Alves registers well and competently tackles his naughty persona with adequate verve. Empress isn't really allowed to do much, though she's never bad. Others don't fare as well - Gina Alajar's cryptic Mrs. Arevalo is so theatrical, you wonder where her thespic control and brilliance have gone after all these years. Ditto to Isay Alvarez who's very lost in her lunatic borborygmus.

With sparkling camera work, great production value and an embarrassing riches of talent, it's such a pity to end up with a snooze-worthy product that's more narrative diarrhea than compelling story. Pass that Imodium tablet please.  

One-year anniversary frolic

Alicia is pregnant and gets an abortion from a medical student even before the latter does clinical work. 

Tin-foil eyes recklessly pasted over the lids.

Lovi Poe

Benjamin Alves

Benjamin Alves

Empress Schuck

Lovi Poe and Benjamin Alves


Anonymous said...

aww, no review of just one summer? It was a mess daw.
I also expected great things from Tara. But I must add that Lovi is overexposed na. She was in Aswang, Guni-guni and soon in Tiktik. Wala na bang ibang artista sa Regal?
--Curious G

Armando dela Cruz said...

AVOID THIS AT ALL COSTS. Unless you like wasting money, energy and time. said...

This film was boring.

Cathy Pena said...

@ Curious G:

Ohmygod! I was kinda hoping no one would notice re: absence of "Just One Summer". :) Sigh. Haha

But I will try some mantras tonight that way I could force myself to write about "Just One Summer".

"Wala na bang ibang artista sa Regal?" Baka wala na nga. :) I like Lovi though. She's never absolutely bad.

Cathy Pena said...

@ Armand:

Strong words. :)

Cathy Pena said...

@ Mark/PISARA:

It is a snooze-worthy film, I absolutely agree. :)

Anonymous said...

watch the original Thai movie instead.

Armando dela Cruz said...

@Cathy, I agree that she's not BAD. It's just, I always think of her as her, not as a character. She strike me less, than how she strike most of you, obviously.

Cathy Pena said...


That's clear to me. :)

Anonymous said...

only time Lovi acted as a character was in Temptation Island, and she IS good. I wonder why her ability is never exploited to act out unique characters

I also didn't like the film. I can see signs of cinematic highlights/experimentation (for a Pinoy mainstream horror film), but the film wasn't put together in an organic fashion.

and what's with the tin foil effect??? it's like your friend trying to scare you for fun.


Cathy Pena said...

@ Jason:

I'm not so sure it's such a valid "experimentation" when it is copied from Banjung Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom's "Alone" (of Ananda Everingham's "Shutter").

People have been pointing out the similarity of the Thai and the Pinoy posters, but now that I remember it, the story is quite similar, i.e. about a girl born a conjoined twin whose other half did not survive their operation.

Then - the dead twin started haunting her sister (who came home from Korea to attend to her mother who suffered from stroke). Many of the characters in the Thai film are analogous to the Pinoy film's plot, and the main permise is really, errr... pardon the pun, "identical".

Re: Lovi Poe, her handlers and producers are probably too scared to alienate her audience by casting her against type. That's a lot of "ka-ching" thrown out the window. :)

Anonymous said...

A short story:

1. One day, a writer and director named Tara Illenberger watched a Thai Movie about conjoined twins.
2. She thought she could transform it into a Filipino horror movie and people won't even notice because everyone is an idiot (or so she thought).
3. It ended up that she was all wrong and people noticed the vast similarity between the story line and the poster. Filipinos turned out to be more intelligent than she had initially perceived.

Tara Illenberger is a scammer. She scammed people who went to watch this movie filled with great hopes and aspirations for the Filipino movie industry. She scammed people who spent time and money with the promise of seeing something original and entertaining. Tara Illenberger is a SCAMMER. The movie was a total rip-off. A rip-off and that's all it is.

Sayang, graduate pa naman sya ng UP.

Cathy Pena said...

Isn't Crisaldo Pablo a product of UP? Now look at all the roadkill he's been churning out for the past several years? LOL