I know, I know… it’s nearly April…. but don’t worry, your Favorite Catgirl is back again with more of her thoughts on those goofy foreign horror movies I love!! So here we go… with another review that gives us yet another creepy look at the Aswang, folklore monster of the Philippines…. This time courtesy of the independent horror offering, “Yanggaw” aka “The Affliction”.
Our synopsis? It goes along these lines: “Yanggaw” is an Ilonggo word that means “infection”, more specifically, an eerie affliction that can transform normal human beings into one of the horrific folklore monsters, the aswang. The film centers around Junior (Ronnie Lazaro), a former barrio official who retires from service because of disillusionment. Eventually he manages to feed his family through various meager means, only to suddenly confront the situation of having Amor (Aleera Montalla), his beloved daughter who returns from another barrio with a curious illness, and begins to degenerate into a rabid and murderous aswang at night. How can any man hold his family together in the face of both poverty and unspeakable horror?”
Sounds good! I’m thinking there’s going to be a lot more horror on board for this one and a lot less “Twilight” inspired “Monsters and Mortals in Love” this time out. I’ve been needing some scares, so it’ll be a welcome thing to snuggle up on the couch and give it a look see.
Naturally… I’d never do that without giving all my regular Gentle Visitors here at the Litterbox a chance to hear all the details… so by all means, “Read On”!!
This one nearly slipped by me…. I’d remembered reading something about it over at Twitch Film, but that was a while back. Sometimes these things take forever to make it to DVD… and sometimes they never do make it. This one did, but with such little fanfare that I only recently found a copy before it disappeared into that great “Video Graveyard” from whence it might never return.
This one is most definitely a horror film… but surprisingly, it could also very well be something else entirely film-wise. It starts in the dingy fetid interior of a rural clinic somewhere in the boondocks of the Philippines where a young girl, Amor, is suffering the ravages of some unknown ailment. One of her friends goes for a local healer… but one look at Amor and the healer knows something is wrong… something ordinary medicine won’t be able to cure. It’s also where the “unspoken subtext” starts…. She gets asked where Amor’s been living…. and the friend sort of hedges around about things… simply saying she’s been staying with a “friend” away from the factory most nights. It’s never stated directly… but you get the sense that this story could just as easily be about an unplanned pregnancy and it’s effects on a family as it could be about a horrific transformation into cannibal monster.
And that seems to be intentional. Often times such social issue get hidden in genre films…. so why should the Philippines be different in this respect? Basically…. much of “Yanggaw” is built around the idea of a family in crisis. Amor’s forced isolation…. it could be because she’s slowly transmuting into a cannibal thing… but it would also be the same if her family wished to hide the shame of an unwed daughter from friends and neighbors. There’s even a sequence in which the idea of Amor being pregnant is brought up…. mostly as a logical plot element… but the way it’s handled, with her very feeble denials that anything like that is possible, makes the viewer fairly certain there’s a good reason why it could very well be possible. Even the sudden departure of Amor’s local beau seems to point to some sort of hanky-panky before our film even got started.
Not that there aren’t other stresses pulling her family apart… Her dad, Junior, is at odds with his best friend, the local sheriff. Seems Junior holds a grudge about his having been passed over for a promotion in the local vigilance patrol and has quit the group… only to get in trouble by taking the law into his own hands, beating a suspected sneak thief nearly to death one dark night. The man ends up in a coma, and the vicious thugs who are his brothers show up looking for answers… and payback from those responsible. Junior denies knowing anything about it… but his old buddy knows something is up, and gets more and more frustrated at being the guy forced to deal with them alone.
Into the middle of all this, Amor arrives, sick, delirious and definitely messed up. Her family has to try to do the best they can to take care of her… but with Junior out of work, monies are tight for things like a doctor or real hospital. Enter local witch doctor/ faith healer, Lazarus. He’s the real deal all right…. but he’s also certain there isn’t a thing he can do to stop the eventual transformation of Amor into one of the flesh eating aswang either. Damn…. that just sucks. What’s a desperate family, ashamed of their freaky daughter, to do? Why chain her in her room, of course……
But… naturally enough… Junior starts to go a little mad here. After all, it’s one thing to confine Amor, keep her from roaming the forest at night eating anything… or anyone.. she can catch. It’s quite another to spend your nights listening to her crazy howling and shrieking as the unnatural hunger tears at her endlessly. His eldest son wants to leave… to take his own little family away from this madness and the threat Amor is to his wife and son. That only makes things worse. Junior takes it as a challenge to his authority and basically beats his son into staying simply to honor the commitment to his birth family at all costs.
This is the bulk of our story…. the terrible stress that can turn even the most loving and stable family against itself in times of terrible tragedy. “Yanggaw” does well with this idea though, and even if much of the horror one might expect in a film of this sort is sacrificed for this plot, it works well overall to keep the story moving along. It’s like a train wreck happening right in front of your eyes…. you know it’s not going to end well, no matter what anybody does, but you just can’t look away till it’s over. And trust your Favorite Catgirl…. this story just isn’t going to end happy….
But I’ll not ruin that for you. Let’s simply say, that for a simple low budget film, “Yanggaw” actually manages to tell it’s story without resorting to preachy overtones or amazing special effects. Amor… as the aswang itself… is more suggested than seen clearly. There’s a real understanding of “less is more” in the way darkness and shadows are used to hide our aswang from being seen toooo closely. Almost all of the killings are done completely off screen…only the results are quickly seen after all the terrible slaughter is over. But that works here…. and the film is actually stronger for it. Don’t expect magical powers or evil abilities from our monster here either…. Amor seems only able to be physically strong, fast, and agile. All the other reputed mystical abilities are missing. But… again, they weren’t really needed to tell the story on hand.
All in all I can give “Yanggaw” a firm 4 “Meows” out of 5. It’s a good little film that didn’t need to be a monster movie to be a good drama, but which succeeds as a horror film as well. The Philippine DVD is spartan to say the least, and although English subtitles are indeed on hand… surprisingly they are hard subbed directly onto the film itself. I’m thinking that’s because the film is originally done in not Tagalog, but the Ilonggo dialect…. and probably this was how the film was actually shown in theaters in the Philippines. Strange… but not too distracting, although it does make the subtitles a bit hard to read at times. With luck, you should be able to find a copy for about 15-20$ US if you are so inclined. A worthy lil’ film…. just not the bloodbath one might expect given the legends.
Trailer? D’ohhhh!! Sorry…. this time out I wasn’t able to find one for you online, but if I’m able, I’ll keep lookin’ and maybe it’ll show up, so keep your eyes peeled!!