Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ang Pamana (2006)

Ang Pamana (Romeo Candido, 2006)
English Title: The Inheritance

Canadian-Filipino director Romeo Candido uses Filipino folkloric monsters to scare his audiences in Ang Pamana (The Inheritance). It's not exactly new for Filipino horror films to bank on such monsters to scare: almost all of the Shake, Rattle and Roll films have an episode involving a mythical monster (most memorable is Peque Gallaga's Manananggal (The Monster)), there has been a couple of other manananggal flicks, some tianak (monster babies) shockers, and numerous other features and television episodes that derive scares from mythic monsters. Film outfits and directors follow suit turning Filipino folklore into a lucrative cinematic enterprise. The ushering of J-horror with Hideo Nakata's Ringu (1998) has made almost all of East Asia, Philippines included, copying its tested scare techniques, limiting cinematic horror in the grasp of long-haired, pail-skinned, nubile female ghosts. Candido, in Ang Pamana veers away from J-horror without necessarily forgetting the techniques altogether (Candido does borrow a few scare tactics from J-horror). The result is more interesting and engrossing than it is scary. Nevertheless, I was satisfied and entertained.

Probably Candido's novel contribution to the Filipino monster sub-genre is that he films it from the point-of-view of the expatriate, the balikbayans who have exchanged the natural beauty of the motherland for the pill-popping culture of Canada. He drops two Canadian-Filipino youths, siblings Johnny (Darrel Gamotin) and Anna (Nadine Villasin), right smack in the middle of the monster-infested family estate (which they have inherited from their superstitious grandmother (Caroline Mangosing)). Their cousin Vanessa (Phoemela Baranda), who also inherits, thus co-owns the huge property with her expatriate cousins, opts to plant marijuana and have fun with her three friends (two of which would later urinate on the mounds of soils that are said to be the homes of the dwende - Filipinized vengeful elves whose demeanor can be discerned by their color).

Candido plays the balikbayan thread rather well. Much of the humor is gathered from the balikbayan's initial bewilderment of the Filipino cultural ticks --- the way the head of the family has to pray before meals no matter how short and inconsequential the prayer is; the erupting bickering from aunt and uncle regarding the plots of land they have inherited; bickering turns into measurements of the debts of gratitude the matriarch has for her children. Humor turns into ominousness when Johnny, Anna and Vanessa arrive at their newly acquired farm. The weirdness, the looming atmosphere that folklore has merged with reality, the introductions of the several places and several family secrets start creeping into the storyline; impregnating the film with so much promise that sadly falls flat with a climax that disappointingly lacks the subtlety of the film's pick-up.

And that's not the only problem of the film. Musical score by Gerard Salonga and the occasional accompanying songs (written and composed by Candido) are quite good. While Ang Pamana is technically competent, Candido's visuals leave too much to be desired. Odyssey Flores' cinematography is crisp and beautiful when the camera is still, but most of the time, the camera is interrupted by Candido's impatient editing and his opting to move his frame out and about, making my eyes beg for some semblance of constancy. It's a head-ache inducing ordeal, and it's really something Candido could've avoided, or if he can't, at least incorporated to the storyline. Candido could've watched how Gallaga directed Manananggal (third part of the first Shake, Rattle and Roll)with coherent ease; the transformation of the barrio lass to the monster in the former film made Ang Pamana's own transformation a pitiful imitation, and the subsequent chase sequence a bore when compared to the manananggal terrorizing the closely guarded nipa hut of Gallaga's film.

Candido is already writing a sequel to the film. There are too many questions left unanswered, and numerous plot holes that need to be filled. With all its problems, there still so much to be enjoyed from the film. I cannot deny that I left the theater somewhat fulfilled yet internally bewildered: here are our home-bred producers and filmmakers sitting their lazy copycat asses trying to figure out how else the J-Horror girly ghost can be modified when there's a whole treasure chest of folklore that is waiting to be mined for cinematic ideas. And it had to be a Canadian born and bred young director to make us aware of that forgotten fact.

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