Sunday, October 21, 2012

Erik Matti's Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles - Visual Feast

Makoy (Dingdong Dantes) is an unemployed engineer who braves the craggy and tempestuous roads of a remote village to fetch Sonia (Lovi Poe), his pregnant partner who’s had enough of his arrogant ways. Upon Makoy’s arrival, Sonia refuses to see him. Fely (Janice de Belen), Sonia’s mother, is only too willing to drive him away. She would rather see Sonia raise her child alone than wed her off someone like Makoy who unwittingly finds an ally in mild mannered Nestor (Joey Marquez), his prospective father-in-law.

To find his way back to Sonia and Fely’s favor, Makoy volunteers to pay for swine that will be served as lechon for a birthday celebration. Nestor, along with oddball cousin Bart (Ramon Bautista), takes him to the market. Unfortunately, the rates aren't within his financial means. Bart recommends a slaughterhouse run by a nomadic people: “Sabihin n’yo lang pangalan ko, makakamura kayo.” The place, it turns out, is a side show of grim countenance where they encounter street smart kids who eventually offer them the merchandise at half the price. This becomes Makoy’s ticket to the dining table later that night. However, Sonia won’t budge. And Makoy is once again turned away. A man’s ego can only take so much.

Then Nestor starts hearing the peculiar sound that’s getting fainter by the second: “May aswang. Pag malakas ang tunog, malayo pa. Pag humihina, malapit na sila.” In the dark of night, Nestor gets a visitor – his Pareng Antonio and son Abel. Little did they know that the pig they bought has transformed into Kulot (RJ Salvador), the curly haired leader of the street urchins who sold them the pig. The swine monster comes after Sonia, but he gets killed in the heist. But their troubles aren't over yet. The slain monster's cohorts have assembled outside ready for carnage. Before long, Pareng Antonio is devoured like roadkill. More than anything, the hungry pack wants the child in Sonia’s womb. Meanwhile, the embattled family, alongside nosy neighbor Aling Pacing (Rina Reyes), braces to defend themselves – with asin (salt), bawang (garlic), buntot pagi (manta ray’s tail), methanol bombs and a bottle of lana (oil) that boils when tiktiks are nearby. Will Makoy, Sonia and their child survive the impending siege of these folkloric monsters?

Director Erik Matti’sTiktik: The Aswang Chronicles” is a sumptuous re-imagining of the “aswang” mythology, punctuated by visually succulent images filmed entirely before a “green screen”. With green screen, it's simple to superimpose anything or anyone into any shot. You can transport yourself to the moon, appear in your favorite film, or make a presentation along with all the relevant facts and figures. This is a ground breaking technological splendor in local cinema. I have never seen a film as gorgeous as this since Pedro Valdes’Dagim”, though the latter employed a different technology. 

The first half of the narrative is the stuff of cinematic magic. It's almost a fully realized concept. The film creates an atmosphere as stunningly otherworldly as the settings in Peter Jackson and JK Rowling flicks. They stick in your mind like some burdensome nightmare. Briskly paced and peppered with tongue-in-cheek humor, “Tiktik” is a refreshing journey into cinematic netherworld.

Unfortunately, the narrative structure crumbles as climax is being built. The onslaught of monsters soon turns tedious and errr... repetitive. You’d have thought by the time Tatang (Roi Vinzon) arrives, all hell would break lose and the excitement would further escalate into pulse-pounding, nail-breaking tension. At this point, the narrative element plateaus, losing much of its cinematic steam. The baby switching scene is particularly a head scratcher. A powerful flying monster as gargantuan as Tatang could easily take the poor child and the four baby-carriers in one clean sweep. He doesn't have to choose at all. 

During the house offensive, the monsters could have gone straight to the roof knowing fully well they’re salt and garlic-free. The Visayan folkloric “kikik” operates the same way: they find themselves on roofs, drill a hole and insinuate their elongating tongue on a pregnant mother’s engorged belly. Yet the tiktik’s intrusion took forever; a cinematic conceit to prolong the siege surely. 

This aforementioned tack is conspicuous early on. When Pareng Antonio and son arrive in Nestor’s home, they were urgently instructed to run for cover, yet after a painfully long wait, they just stood there waiting for kingdom come; and came it did. You couldn't help but think: “Good for you! You’re too stupid to live.

How about the events surrounding wife Fely's eventual demise? When Nestor finds his wife being pulled and munched on like a piece of meat in the corner of the room, he stands and pretends to fall – several times – instead of the “fight-or-flight” instinct of protecting a spouse. Is this part of the running gag that perpetuates Nestor’s character – that he indeed doesn't have the balls? Like some bad joke that needed to be told? This doesn't bode well because you don’t build up empathy by providing your audience with idiots who won’t even try to protect their loved ones when they need their help the most. In the scheme of things, idiots die in horror stories. Yet Nestor lives on to see another day. Go figure. It’s more “kainis” than “katuwa”.

Personally, I still believe that horror and comedy are an ambiguous cinematic pairing. These two discrepant emotional entities - fear and joy - are as mismatched as a pair with one piece Crocs and another Louboutin. Can you validly say you shiver with fear then shift easily to a joyous laughter? You have to be twisted to say "yes". If you want to be truly scared, try Ben Affleck's "Argo". I was hyperventilating in my seat waiting for them to board their Swissair plane out of Iran.   

Dingdong Dantes turns in a consistent, albeit solid performance, thus his depiction of a not-so-lovable loafer is valid and believable. He succeeds to make his audience root for him despite his brassy and course demeanor. That, in itself, is a testament to his escalating thespic brio. However, Lovi Poe, though fetching, is hobbled by her underwritten character. Sure, we know she’s the town’s only source of inspiration (the only girl to have graduated  from college - and proceeded to become a teacher) – until she got knocked up. She wasn't given much except look bored or exasperated - and anything between these emotional brackets. This clearly isn't much.

It’s actually Janice de Belen and Rina Reyes who shine in their limited screen moments. De Belen was feisty and funny. Reyes was restrained when she could have gone to town as the "town tsismosa". Now imagine what Irma Adlawan could have done for the same role? I shiver at the thought. The street urchins – Mike Gayoso (as Ringo), LJ Reyes (as Hilda), RJ Salvador (as Kulot), Cris Pastor (as Mutya), were also adequately sinister. In fact, the throng reminds me of Joel Schumaker'sLost Boys” – or even the gang from "Twilight". They were wonderfully conceived and executed. If only a more legible second half of the narrative was ironed out adequately.  

But all these quibbles are moot and academic. The fact is, this is a groundbreaking visual feast and has to be appreciated and patronized so that the think tanks of the industry can consider making more in the same cinematic constitution. It’s not a perfect film, as other critics would make you believe, but it isn't run-of-the-mill either. There isn't much emotional pillar to hang on to so you leave the theater disconnected from any of the film's character. But the movies are a visual medium, and "Tiktik" succeeds in this aspect. Michiko Yamamoto, the film’s script consultant, could have tweaked its script to a more compelling finish.  

Lastly, the limited nationwide screenings of "Tiktik The Aswang Chronicles" can only harm the production's chances of making money (although it's said to have grossed P10 million since its opening). In Cebu, for example, Ayala Cinema doesn't carry this title in their four-cinema movie house. SM Cebu, on the other hand, only screens "Tiktik" from 4 PM onward - thus they only have 3 screenings per day, as it is in several SM cineplexes in Metro Manila (In Megamall, it shares a theater with "V/H/S"). Same is true in Davao City (no "Tiktik" in Ayala's Abreeza Mall either) where "Tiktik" shares a theater with another ("Looper").

This makes you wonder. Isn't "Tiktik" produced and released by GMA? You can't get more mainstream than a horror film headlined by Dingdong Dantes and Lovi Poe, can you? Or is GMA's cinematic reach and influence really limited - thus incomparable to the seemingly boundless dominion of ABS-CBN's releasing arm? This dilemma made GMA's "Just One Summer" a fly-by-night wonder. In fact, it got swatted and disappeared in infamy after just 2 days in cinemas - all over the country (except SM North Edsa)! 

GMA has been trying to produce films of considerable narrative heft so it's sad how they're faring badly at the box office. Is this why they're peddling the entertainment network for any willing buyer to the tune of P100 Billion? Manny Pangilinan didn't bite. Why is it being sold if it's really the number one network? Do the math! I just hope the ship doesn't sink. 


A beautifully conceived netherworld of nomads, vagrants and immigrants in their own swine market.


Anonymous said...

i think this is Dingdong's best performance in his entire career


Cathy Pena said...

Jason: Dingdong is very good here. I think "Segunda Mano" is his better realized performance. :)

pinoy aswang said...

Dingdong Dantes did well in this movie. When the trailer of this movie was launched and Dingdong was introduced, I was thinking that other actors can do it better but he did justice to the role. He really looks comfortable and he expressed his dialogues well without sounding a little cheesy.

Cathy Pena said...

@ Pinoy Aswang:

Agree about Dingdong's performance. He did his role well. :)