Friday, November 02, 2007

Sigaw (2004)

Sigaw (Yam Laranas, 2004)
English Title: The Echo

Yam Laranas' Sigaw was released during the yearly Metro Manila Film Festival, a two week-long affair wherein all of the country's big studios release their big-budgeted features. The festival that year had a very poor line-up (the three best pictures that year were Joel Lamangan's Mano Po 3: My Love, a tiring continuation of the pint-sized tales of Filipino-Chinese romantics, Cesar Montano's Panaghoy sa Suba (The Call of the River), another sappy tale of patriotism and romance during the Pacific War, and Lamangan's Aishite Imasu (Mahal Kita) 1941 (I Love You 1941), about a transvestite spy falling in love with a Japanese general and a sorry wife who wages her own war against the Japanese invaders. Despite the poor line-up of films, Sigaw didn't get much critical attention aside from a few citations on its production merits. Years later and with much help from Laranas' marketing ingenuity, the film is up for a Hollywood remake (also to be directed by Yaranas) and is now regarded as a classic in the genre.

Does it deserve its current status or is it one of those films whose reputation precedes its actual merits? I'd like to think that it does. Laranas is a gifted cinematographer. I believe he is one of the reason why Raymond Red's Bayani (Heroes, 1992) has that distinct look which turns the film from being simply a film about patriots into an intriguingly surreal version of a well-known portion of Filipino history. His previous films (Balahibong Pusa (Cat Hairs, 2001), Radyo (Radio, 2001), Hibla (Thread, 2002)), not exactly masterpieces in storytelling, are all very alluring to look at. Laranas, who is also cinematographer for Sigaw, feeds the feature with tons of mood and atmosphere; during the first few frames of the film, we are entreated to foreboding views of a concrete building and its interiors tinged with otherworldly hues.

The set-up is excellent, reminiscent of Hideo Nakata's Dark Water (2002) where a decrepit apartment building becomes the fitting setting of a ghost story. In Sigaw, the building is home to a couple, a violent cop (Jomari Yllana) and his pitiful wife (Iza Calzado), and their daughter (Ella Guevara). Their nightly fights and the wife's constant pleas for help disturb Marvin (Richard Gutierrez), a newbie to the building who just acquired his unit for a steal. The story, conceived by Laranas and Roy Iglesias, unfolds succinctly. We first witness one of the couple's more violent episodes. The abusive dialogue, the threats of physical harm accompanied by loud noises of bangings and gunshots are repeated throughout the feature; apart from the conventional shocks and scares (quite effectively done --- Marvin wakes up to blood dripping on his face revealing a bloodied ghost floating above him, or when Marvin and his girlfriend (Angel Locsin) are inside a movie theater and the same ghost starts gliding to them), it is the inauspicious air of domestic violence that makes Sigaw truly terrifying.

Sigaw zeroes in on brutality against women and children, a theme fascinatingly weaved into the film. The repetitiveness, which encompasses both the nightly aural and visual hauntings and the time-enduring manifestations which is against the real and logical assertions of our temporal concept, alludes to the violent act itself. Such brutality is cyclical in its nature. In its most afflictive, its symptoms consist of a vicious circle of physical, mental and emotional violence followed by moments of tenderness, repeated over and over again, trapping the victim perpetually until she tries to escape herself. The ghost story in Sigaw is intertwined with the concept and the effects of such physical and psychological abuse; that these traumatic murders caused by severe beatings and verbal abuse is a logical enough reason to commit the hauntings (mostly the most violent episodes recurring ad infinitum) permanently, at least until a drastic change happens.

This brings me to one of the film's more glaring flaws, the casting of Jomari Yllana as the savage husband. He isn't phsyically apt for the role nor is his acting impressive enough for us to forego his physical deficiencies. Alongside statuesque actress Iza Calzado, he doesn't seem imposing or daunting enough to elicit actual fear. He broods too much and his drunken ruthlessness and brutality is too mannered to be dire. If the role were given to someone more physically terrifying (an ugly, monstrous brute) or someone who can transform tremendously beyond his physical frame (perhaps Ronnie Lazaro, who plays the drunken caretaker of the apartment building), the effect would be much clearer and the distress will be more palpable and believable.

Sigaw is not great horror (although its admittedly a good one), and the fact of its being remade by Hollywood is not reason enough to delegate it the status of a classic. However, it is satisfyingly moody and atmospheric, and beneath all the jumps, scares, and celluloid-committed dread is a convincing subtext. Hopefully, that doesn't get lost in translation.


dodo dayao said...

My favorite bit is when things get really, really surreal and hairy and seriously mindfucked forcing the two leads to go on the run, they go and . . .watch a movie. It seems preposterous and illogical but actually makes a perverse kind of sense. Hell, that's what I would do if my world was upside down - - -watch a movie or maybe shop for CDs or eat. You only see this kind of frisson in an Asian film, I think. This clinched it for me that Yam was onto something. More power to the remake.

dodo dayao said...

Oh, btw, oggs, did they call you for that interview gig? Woke up late that day and wasn't able to check the show. :)

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Dodo,

That's true, there's comfort in the cinemas, and for that ghost to break that comfort, there's some sort of poetry there.

About the interview gig... nah, they never bothered. They got Rahyan Carlos instead, or Richard Somes, or Rico Ilarde.

Etchie said...

Hi oggs,

Liked bits and pieces of Sigaw. Better than, say Feng Shui, or anything with Kris Aquino on it. The atmosphere pretty much compensates for its flaws (a few, i think), and I'd like to believe that it's one of the handful of the contemporary Filipino horror films that can be lined up side-by-side with Ringu, Dark Water, Tale of Two Sisters.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks etchie,

I agree. Aside from the atmosphere, there's something very rational behind the hauntings, which is absent in Feng Shui and most other Pinoy horror films.

dodo dayao said...

Oh shoot,sayang. Rico begged off that morning interview as he was interviewed that afternoon instead on another show. Oh well. Next time.

Sigaw, over all, is well made and above merely competent. Liked Pasiyam and Cobon better and it's not up there with Itim but it's on my personal shortlist, looking down from a dizzying height and throwing rocks at the Feng Shuis and Sukobs and Mark Reyes films in steerage.

Oggs Cruz said...

No worries Dodo, I had a kick out of Rahyan Carlos' interview though. He was plugging Hide and Seek of course (awful, awful movie; saw it during its premiere and it's so awful, I can't even write about it) which he pegs as a marriage of Hollywood and Japanese horror elements (he differentiated the two by saying that Hollywood is more subtle and Japanese is the more out there, eh?). Biggest stand-out was when he was proudly waving his copy of Three: Extremes, pirated unfortunately (good thing Edu Manzano was not watching). He considers Shake Rattle and Roll, Shake Rattle and Roll 2 and Sigaw as the best horror films our country has to offer (Mother Lily must be beaming with pride).

You're right. Pa-siyam is much better, Cogon much more imaginative; the three of course has nothing against Mike de Leon's Itim or Kisapmata.

panic said...

yam is a good cinematographer...

his story telling skills though need a lot of work.

shots were good... but the story and the flow... unfortunately for me were terrible.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks panic,

Hopefully, the meticulous Hollywood machinery would iron out the flaws of Laranas' story. I'm not hopeful though, writer's Eric Bernt of Virtuosity, Romeo Must Die and The Hitcher fame.

dodo dayao said...

I'm not even remotely considering watching Hide and Seek. Title pa lang rip off na. Nice guy, though, Rahyan, if a little clueless. And is the Hollywood model of horror even valid as a referent? Brits have more of a tradition. Italians, too. But Hollywood?

Oggs Cruz said...

Classic Hollywood perhaps... Dracula, Frankenstein, etc... but present-day Hollywood, I don't think so. Unless what Rahyan meant by Hollywood is its capacity to copycat and still produce shit.