Time to swing by the sunny Philippines for today’s movie review, and this time out we have a look at Topel Lee’s latest horror offering, 2011’s “Tumbok”. The Trailer promises a haunted apartment building, ghosts, creepy goings on, and a look at a traditional Philippine version of feng shui. Think I could pass it all up? Not on your life.
Our story goes like this: “After they tie the knot, newlyweds Grace (Cristine Reyes) and Ronnie (Carlo Aquino) inherit a run-down condominium unit from the unexpected death of Ronnie’s dad under eerie circumstances. The building stands right at the center of the crossroads of three streets, an unlucky location referred to as “Tumbok”. Such a place is believed by the superstitious to gather negative spiritual energy and bring bad fortune to all who dare to live there. Not long after moving in, Grace begins to sense something strange about the place and those who also live there. More horrible than the inexplicable things she is witnessing, is the abuse she begins to experience nightly in her dreams. Disturbed, terrified and pregnant with child, Grace must somehow try to uncover the secret behind all the dread misfortunes they are experiencing before it is too late and they cannot escape from the place of horror they now call home.”
Yep. That definitely sounds like one of those sorts of movies I like, and both Topel Lee and Cristine Reyes have entertained me before in other Philippine horror efforts, so what are we waiting for? That’s right… it’s time to “Read On” and find out just exactly what the heck “Tumbok” is all about!
As our story gets underway, we immediately get a quick introduction to our heroine Grace (played by pretty Cristine Reyes) who finds her new father-in-law dying of a heart attack. Naturally… in a horror movie…. the old guy has to struggle to impart that last cryptic bit of information to Grace before going on to the Hereafter. “Tell Ronnie not to go there!!!…. Aaaarrgh!! Gasp… Hack, hack, cough, cough!!” You’d thing that Grace would be a smart cookie and put that together with the sudden inheritance of a mysterious condominium in Manila…. a place Ronnie’s father swore he’d never visit again after tragically losing Ronnie’s mother under circumstances he’d never…ever…. discuss with anybody, Ronnie included. But nope. That just couldn’t be the place he was talking about now would it? Silly, silly people….. Where would horror movies be without such blissfully thick-headed characters like these?
As co-incidence would have it, Ronnie’s just been promoted in his job as a police photographer and they need to move to Manila where he is now stationed. How’s that for luck? They’ll have a place to stay, free and clear. Mind you, things get creepy right away…. they nearly get attacked by a crazy machete wielding drunkard on their way to the apartment…. I mean.. what are the chances of that happening?
Apparently pretty high… as Grace soon discovers once they arrive at the distinctively sinister looking apartment building. It’s old… run-down… nearly deserted.. and yet the son of dear old Dad’s ex business partner has kept his old apartment paid up and ready for them all these years…. just in case they should ever want it. Mark (played by Ryan Eigenmann) seems like a nice guy… but there’s just something about him you don’t trust, and it’s not all that much of a spoiler to tell you you’d be right to think he’s got an ulterior motive behind him.
From this point forward, we get the usual expected story bits. Grace’s best friend, Ronnie’s cousin Lumen (played by LJ Moreno) shows up for a visit… and as luck would have it, turns out to be our spiritualism expert with more than a wee bit of knowledge about this whole “Tumbok” thing. From what your Favorite Catgirl Princess could gather, it’s something like Chinese Feng Shui… certain physical arrangements of houses and rooms and such are just “bad”. Living at the intersection of three streets is particularly terrible…. it’s called “the poison arrow”… and means that all the negative spiritual energy around an area is focused right on you. Worse…. it seems demons, spirits, and the restless dead are attracted to such places… as if bad luck wasn’t enough of a bummer to worry about. Too bad cousin Lumen won’t survive long enough to do much more than warn Grace about all this before running afoul of our machete wielding psycho.
After this all sorts of bad stuff starts happening…. a ghostly crying baby seems to haunt Grace, the odd blind girl next door keeps talking to her “invisible friend” , a little girl Grace soon believes was murdered in their apartment….. and she starts having vivid dreams of being raped each night by Mark while Ronnie is away at work. Yep…. that alone would have this lil’ lady looking for new lodgings, but unfortunately for poor Grace, Ronnie is too stressed by problems he’s having at work and out of cash after the tragic death of Lumen has forced him to spend their nest-egg on the funeral, to completely believe her. Darn…. You’d think the freaky worm infested scratch on his arm would have him ready to start accepting the idea that something weird was up…. Oh well…. he’ll learn.
Then.. as if things aren’t bad enough, Grace begins to piece together the Tragic events that drove his father to take Ronnie and flee to the countryside. Turns out, the lil’ ghost girl Yumi is actually Ronnie’s younger sister, killed in the condo along with another baby sister by their insane mother Rita (played by Ara Mina)… who turns out to be not so dead after-all. Yep… she’s in the local asylum, still raving on about how all of her children weren’t Ronnie’s fathers offspring at all. They were the cursed spawn of a demon who repeatedly visited her at night and raped her. Crap… starting to sound familiar?
Still it takes another near fatal run in with our machete wielding freak to convince Ronnie to get behind the idea of leaving, but naturally by this time it’s too late. Our climax shows up, we learn the true nature of “helpful” Mark, and get a fiery, shotgun armed confrontation ending with the condo being set ablaze and Ronnie dying to save Grace from the unholy curse of the place. …… Or does it end like that? It’s a horror movie, remember? And poor Grace never got pregnant till all those nasty unsettling rape dreams started…
Hmmmm? So what’s our rating for this one? Well, it’s not exactly the most original film to run through my DVD player lately, but for the most part, it’s still a fairly nice, tight bit of horror film making. The acting is good, in particular Miss Reyes, who always seems to capture a real vulnerability in her portrayals of the heroine in these. The cinematography is excellent and effective and I have to say that the setting itself is about the most believably creepy one I’ve seen in quite a while. The apartment building is both odd and unsettling… fitting the idea of “Tumbok” as an “evil ill-omened” place. In particular, the circular winding stairwell… a central fixture of the building… is exceptionally eerie with it’s old style, rounded art deco look and wooden handrail. It’s a place I personally could truly feel was haunted…. Kudos to the location scouts for this one. In short… I ended up liking this one a lot and I’m thinking many other Asian ghost story fans will as well. Overall the film has the feeling of many similar Indonesian and Thai films (the good ones… Hehehe!!) and should go over very well in those markets.
With all that, I feel good about giving “Tumbok” 3 firm “Meows” out of 5 for doing a solid job of entertaining this lil’ lady on “movie nite” and I’ll even throw in a couple of well earned purrs of contentment for Christine Reyes and that wonderful creepy location, both used to their best possible herein to sell this story. Definitely worth a look if such films are your cup of tea as they are mine.
As always, the Philippine DVD is excellent. Done All Region, in NTSC format, letterboxed and perfectly subtitled in English for those of us who don’t speak Tagalog, it comes with both a photo gallery of stills, the film’s Trailer, and a nice “Making of” feature. (Unfortunately not subtitled… but still worth a look…) You should be able to pick up a copy, if you are so inclined, for about 16-20$ US most places where Pinoy films can be found. Not too shabby…..
As always, I leave you with the Trailer to get you in the mood for some creepy ghost story fun of your very own.