Monday, April 20, 2009

T2 (2009)

T2 (Chito Roño, 2009)

The story of T2, written by its director Chito Roño with Aloy Adlawan (whose writing credits include Topel Lee's gratingly noisy Ouija (2007) and Khavn dela Cruz's counter-horror genre 3 Days of Darkness (2007)), is coined from the many different experiences by various individuals from around the Philippines with engkantos (nature spirits that take human form) gathered by the film's researchers during the film's pre-production. To the casual cynic, these stories about encounters with engkantos may seem outrageous, if not downright ridiculous. Tales about normal men and women who are lured into the lavish dwellings of these monarchial beings or punished with severe ailments or disfigurations for rejecting these offers are out of place in this modern world of scientific and medical accuracy. However, the consistency of these stories despite geographical and social boundaries, and the cultural and social repercussions of the abundance of these experiences from all over the country despite the expanding grasp of modernity outweigh the farfetchedness of the storytellers' implausible representations.

The fact that T2 is a tapestry of various tall tales, framed into a straightforward story about Claire (Maricel Soriano), a frustrated childless wife, who escapes from the pressures of her failed marriage by volunteering to escort orphans to their adoptive homes, is telling of what to expect from a film about wraithly nature spirits. The film behooves standard logic, even more so than Roño's recent absurd horror films, Feng Shui (2004) and Sukob (The Wedding Curse, 2006)) . T2 is most effective when it piles enigma after enigma; where the chills are not derived so much from Roño's proficiency for staging visual and aural treats that shock, agitate, and momentarily perturb, but from the lingering discomfort of unexplained occurrences that despite their impossibility maintain a stranglehold over our common cultural imagination. The film's cryptic opening, where a young man who is in search for his lost goat encounters a strange apparition of an airplane descending down an airport in a metropolis that suddenly appears out of the starless night, sets the tone, although unsustained, for Roño's more inconsistent and intriguing horror film to date.

T2 is curiously concerned with travel: the airplane that zooms past the young man in the introduction; Claire working in a travel agency; her philanthropy concerning transporting orphans from one place to another; and the initial half of the film being told in various forms of travel. Roño portrays the act of traveling with such repose that allows him to infuse it with an ominous unease, inflicted by intertwining emotions like fatigue, despair, depression and hope that consume Claire after evading from her severe domestic predicament. Humanity, ungifted with any natural weapons, opts for the logic of flight when faced with crisis. Adopted in our modern world scenario, vacations remedy work-a-day stress and inter-country migration is believed to be the cure-all to the inadequacies of an incompetent government. It is this fundamentally human trait of escapism that birthed the cultural phenomenon of engkantos in the Philippines as the common denominator of these stories is the possibility of escape, being offered by these spirits, from the hardships of the real world.

Roño clearly acknowledges this by creating travel and escape a constant thematic concern, with Claire using her mission of accompanying orphans to their new homes as a distraction from her pressing marital problems; or the fantastic offerings of leisure and comfort being utilized by the engkantos to lure Angeli (Mika dela Cruz), Claire's ward, into their realm; or the little gestures that Claire does to momentarily forget or evade her troubles like turning off her cellular phone or drowning her sorrows with bottles of beer. By emphasizing the ugliness of the real world (the dilapidated and overpopulated tenement that becomes the stage to the film's climax) and the interminable troubles that hound his characters, Roño facilitates the allure of abdicating worldly affairs for the promise of painless existence with the consequence of losing the ability to feel human emotions. However, T2 never fully explores this dichotomy since the film clearly prefers simplicity over analyzing the national malaise through the horror medium, by establishing clear lines that divide good (humanity) and evil (the scary engkantos that offer empty comforts). Roño shies from portraying the gravity of the human condition, preferring to limit earthly concerns to emotional turmoil and familial inconveniences, which are not enough reasons to facilitate the blurring of moral lines and make permanent escape a feasible, if not entirely logical choice.

This is what differentiates T2 from Guillermo del Toro's far superior Pan's Labyrinth (2007), which clearly influenced Roño. Del Toro paints Fascist-era Spain with viciousness, violence, and depravity, that makes escapism the only means for the film's desperate heroine to survive. In comparison, T2 feels insignificant and petty. This brings me to Roño's biggest miscalculation, which is to filter from the stories the social element that binds these tales no matter who tells them and no matter where the storyteller comes from. By constricting the film within the melodramatic trappings of a distressed wife and a parentless little girl who is hounded by engkantos, Roño waives making a film that transcends pure commercialism. Instead of crafting a horror film that explores a grave national ache inflicted by decades of poverty, corruption and oppression to the point of causing a nationwide malady of escapism through fables, fantasies and tall tales, Roño comes up with a competent and effective horror picture, filling but will ultimately leave you wishing it were saying something more.


Anonymous said...

how could we mistake roño for something he did not intend to do in the first place..? maybe they just play to people's fantasies without any bearing of today's political and social condition. its too ugly and unpleasant anyway.. and if that happens, it will disenchant the masses and that could be the possible failure of the film..

by the way, nice review on the film.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks. True, it's probably not Rono's fault in the first place to stay inside the box. It's probably the decision of Star Cinema to keep the film entertaining, without the baggage of digging deeper. However, one can't help but feel dissatisfied, especially with the amount of research work that the filmmakers are proudly stating in the previews to the film (interviewing, gathering affidavits from people who experiences such things). There is an underlying phenomenon here that you can explore.

Anonymous said...

ahh.. got it. :) thanks for the response too

Anonymous said...

Actually, I like the movie, I enjoy it very much saved for the last part kung saan pangit ang cgi.

Parang sinabuhay nito ang alam ko tungkol sa mga engkanto, ang mga naririnig ko.

I am giving it 8 out of 10. By the way, what can you say about the acting of the stars especially Ms. Maricel Soriano? I am a fan.

Oggs Cruz said...

Don't get me wrong. I like the movie as well. Regarding Maricel Soriano's work however, I thought it was alright. Nothing to get all excited over.