The 16th to 22nd of August 2017 has been declared as Pista ng Pelikulang Pinoy, or Fiesta of Filipino Films, to celebrate the art of Filipino indie movies. All cinemas in the country have been mandated to show the following local films:
- 100 Tula Para Kay Stella
- Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B
- Bar Boys
- Patay na si Hesus
- Pauwi Na
- Star Na si Van Damme Stallone
Students are supposed to be charged Php 150 for those in Metro Manila and Php 100 for those in the provinces. I wanted to take advantage of this discount, but unfortunately, UP hasn’t released my ID yet (and I’m told I’ll get it probably by the end of the semester). I can’t afford to watch all the movies, so my friends and I decided to go see Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B since we’d wanted to see it ever since it first came out last October 2016.
I absolutely did not regret it and urge everyone to go see it! Ryza Cenon is an amazing lead, although my friend and her boyfriend had a bit of a fight because he recognized her from an FHM magazine (lol). The cinematography is beautiful, the music is great, and the plot is lovely and stirring, with all the best aspects of Filipino indie cinema.
Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B is about Jewel, a lonely woman who lives by herself with a only a pet turtle named Edward to keep her company. At first, the movie’s opening seems like the beginning of every romantic comedy ever: Jewel sees new neighbors moving in, and one of them happens to be a handsome young man named Nico. On the building’s rooftop, she overhears him breaking up with his girlfriend, and offers to share her balut with him in a moment of quirky commiseration.
But then, the darkness unfolds. We begin to see that Jewel isn’t isolated simply because she’s lonely and/or heartbroken – she’s a manananggal, a creature from Philippine mythology whose lower half sprouts wings and fangs, and detaches itself from the lower torso to feed on the hearts and other internal organs of men. The movie does a great job interspersing the blood and horror of Jewel’s hunts with the normalcy of her interactions with Nico, his funny, outrageous grandmother, and Nico’s own pet turtle Dumbledore. Despite her growing closeness with Nico, Jewel still feels detached because of her gory, otherworldly needs. Eventually, it all comes to a head: Nico’s grandmother passes away, and Jewel’s secret is discovered. Nico, however, doesn’t care, having lost the only family he has left, and runs away with her.
There’s absolutely nothing that I didn’t like about this movie, so prepare yourself for all the gushing. You have been warned.
Personally, I adored the twist on traditional Filipino horror. Filipino horror very much follows the usual Asian format: the ghost, monster, creature, whatever, has a tragic backstory that takes a stab at justifying why the supernatural entity is haunting and/or killing humans. With AMU23B, there’s none of that. Jewel is just…hungry. (And also smart enough to use the recent spate of extrajudicial killings to mask her crimes. Loved that little touch there.)
Don’t think Jewel’s a slave to her desires, though. She struggles with her being a manananggal, and she suffers from isolation and loneliness because she can’t share those struggles with anyone. She clearly also comes to care about Nico and can’t bring herself to make him her next meal.
The cinematography too was great. I’m no film expert, but I found the movie to be an absolute visual treat. In particular, I love the club scenes where Jewel’s hunting down local fuccbois, and the interior shots of her apartment (which, incidentally, is exactly the kind of shabby chic I want for my own place). Rounding out these beautiful shots is a kick-ass soundtrack, primarily featuring the song Hide the Drinks, I’ll Be Okay by Arigato, Hato! (Listen to it below.)
Above all of these things though, the phenomenal acting from Ryza Cenon (Jewel), Martin del Rosario (Nico), and Vangie Labalan (Nico’s lola) really stands out. Ryza Cenon especially stuns and captivates with her performance. You really feel her pain, her loneliness, her burgeoning feelings for Nico. With a mere two hours of talking, interacting, and complex facial expressions, you grow attached to their characters and become invested in their lives.
What really sealed the deal for me though was the drama of Jewel’s transformation into a manananggal. Since you already know from the very beginning that she is one, you’re expecting to see the horror of it near the start. The movie cleverly plays with your expectations by making her incredibly gory (body horror alert!) transformation the film’s climax, followed by a somewhat expected but still perfect slightly happy ending.
Overall, Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B is a visually arresting, stylish modern-day gothic horror/romance that’ll leave you wanting more. I highly recommend it!