Wag Kang Lilingon (Quark Henares & Jerry Lopez Sineneng, 2006)
English Title: Don't Look Back
Star Cinema and Viva's team-up to make Wag Kang Lilingon (Don't Look Back), an omnibus of two horror shorts, might prove worthwhile for the two commercial film production outfits as the film packs on audience-adored twists and shocks (a sure come-on for the typical horror film viewer). Beyond those twists (some of which, I can smell a mile away), there's really nothing much that Wag Kang Lilingon has to offer. It's quite disappointing really, as I adored Quark Henares' previous film Keka (2003), and this is one of the few occasions for which prolific Ricky Lee writes a horror screenplay (Ricky Lee also penned one half of Magandang Hatinggabi (Good Midnight, Laurenti Dyogi, 1998)). I was expecting to be rocked, I left the theater rattled and disturbed (Henares has one more offering this year --- Super Noypi (2006) for this year's Metro Manila Film Festival; should I start lowering my expectations?).
Actually, it is Henares' episode, Uyayi (Lullaby) that proves to be the film's better half. Uyayi explores the investigation of a night shift nurse Melissa (Anne Curtis) on the numerous deaths that have happened and are happening on the hospital grounds. With the help of his journalist boyfriend James (Marvin Agustin) who undercovers as a hospital patient, Melissa starts doubting the sanity of a grumpy and at times autistic doctor (Raymond Bagatsing). It's far from original --- you can actually detect which films Henares picked his inspirations from: There's a scene that eerily resembles Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo (Pulse, 2001), ghosts and mysteries haunting a hospital is also the focal point of Masayuki Ochiai's Infection (2004). Finally, there's also an interesting resemblance with Henares' own student film A Date With Jao Mapa (1999), a short film wherein a lady fan baits famous actor Jao Mapa into a date, only to turn psycho on him.
Henares pervades his half of the film with his trademark quirks (cinematographer Lyle Sacris shoots the film so beautifully that there's such a noticeable divide when the film starts to scare or when it starts to make us swoon). I've always thought that Henares is more convincing in depicting romantic relationships, than genre (Keka (2003) is ultimately a rom-com disguised as a revenge film and erstwhile police procedural). Here, a generous amount of screentime is used to enunciate Melissa and James' relationship: much of it is Henares trademark cute, cuddly and breezy. The horror elements are done sparingly (a few of the imposed shocks, there's a bit of gore, and Romero-inspired undead); it pales in comparison to the Japanese counterparts named, but Henares is a novice in horror, and he's just directing a script that was written for him; a probable cause for the film's downfall as Henares is as good a writer as he is a filmmaker. Ricky Lee's story and script tries so hard to cover all the holes and answer all the questions, thus the numerous excrutiating revalatory sequences. Looking back, I can't help but, again, admire the way Henares ended Keka --- full of questions and possibilities, questions are left as unanswered questions; it works well that way.
The other and longer half is Jerry Lopez Sineneng's Salamin (Mirror). Sineneng is one of Star Cinema's horses in its stable of filmmakers and thus, he has directed almost everything --- melodrama, teenybopper rom-coms, comedy, sitcoms. Salamin, I think, is his first stab at horror and sadly, the episode overflows with excesses. A family moves into a large empty house with suspiciously low rent (the family members should have watched Ishmael Bernal's Fridyider (Frigidaire) before accepting a housing offer that's too good to be true). One night, they discover a large mirror and unwittingly opens a portal to the spirit world. Ghosts of the past and the future now haunt them wherever they go.
There's a huge difference between Henares' tiptop detailry with Sineneng's television quality aesthetics. The production is a mixed bag --- special effects are overdone to the point of hilarity, newly painted walls adorn a supposed decades old mansion. The crispness and glossiness of the cinematography can't simply hide the defects of Sineneng's filmmaking. Moreover, the film is gratingly noisy --- the musical score is uncontrolled; the actors and actresses' scream to their lungs' absolute torture. The acceptable quality of Henares' first episode is betrayed by this one that when the twist (a connection between the two films) is revealed, it forces you to ask the question: Why hire two directors then to make a film that is essentially one? The answer: big studio gimmickry. The result: a half-baked effort; and we all know which half isn't baked properly.