Sunday, October 16, 2016

QCinema 2016: Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B

Writer/Director duo Prime Cruz and Jen Chaunsu return to QCinema with a new film, Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B, which puts the millennial romantic movie through a horror-filled twist. The result is a clever spin on the romantic genre, one of this year's most gorgeous looking movies, and a pretty decent film in and of itself.

Jewel is our titular manananggal (for you non-Filipinos reading, its a vampire-like flesh eating monster that splits into two), and the film starts out showing us her rather mundane life. It sets the mood perfectly for everything that happens next. She comes across a young tenant who moves in nearby with his grandmother. Soon the two build up an uncertain relationship.

Most of the film revolves around the question of whether this unlikely couple will hook up in the end or not, and how Jewel's secret will be revealed, if at all. The buildup of the relationship stems from a number of candid conversations similar in tone to last year's Sleepless (made by the same crew). These conversations will not work if the leads don't have chemistry, and Ryza Cenon and Martin Del Rosario thankfully deliver. Ryza Cenon in particular is a delight to watch - she manages to create a complex character who is not an evil monster as previous depictions of the manananggal show; instead, she's an entity who is forced to do heinous acts by her very nature, and she knows she cannot stop it. Nevertheless, Jewel comes off as someone still capable of love, yet suffering from loneliness because of that very nature - a supernatural hedgehog's dilemma, so to say.

The movie is gorgeously shot, and props have to be given to the production design team and the cinematography team - this is simply one of the most beautifully shot movies (local or otherwise) of the year. Each shot is framed just right, and meticulously so, but not so much as to call attention to itself. I remember the shot of the two characters in the laundromat as a particular example - the frame looks gorgeous, and in two separate instances, the shot reflects the leads' relationship to one another.

The film does make a side statement about the spate of extrajudicial killings that have been happening recently - in that it's so easy for a murder completely unrelated to drugs (in this case, caused by a flesh eating creature) to occur and have it automatically attributed to drugs anyway because the cardboard sign said so. In fact (and perhaps ironically) the only drug related activity seemingly goes unpunished.

The film is not perfect - I felt that the ending was a bit rushed and didn't let us linger in specific moments. I felt that the romance could have been developed further. But the best scene in the entire movie (for me, anyway) happens during this ending scene, excellently acted by Cenon and Del Rosario: a long, lingering look, just a few seconds longer than usual, that communicates to me everything that needs to be said without speaking a single word. And that to me, my friends, is everything.

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