FILM REVIEW: A tragedy of horror

Community Opinion & Analysis Aug 23, 2019 at 2:51 pm

MYSTERY-OF-THE-NIGHT-posterMisterio de la Noche (2019)

By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

One doesn’t have to fully understand Philippine folklore to know about tales of witches. Different cultures throughout the world are rife of accounts about sightings of creatures that can shapeshift, often said to be found at night. In the motherland, these are the kind portrayed as reclusive, body-splitting female viscera sucker and are commonly called aswang, the most feared by native people.

Adolfo Alix Jr.’s Misterio de la Noche (Mystery of the Night) has that arc of worldly folktale, specifically that of horror that stems its narrative from tragedy. It is a heavy handed drama that is filled with domestic details of supernatural schematic piece.

The setting is the year 1900, a time when the archipelago was still under Spanish rule of “tyranny and oppression.” Based on Rody Vera’s play “Ang Unang Aswang” (The First Aswang), the film maintains the structure of a classical tragedy: the prologue, the entrance ode, episode, choral ode and exit ode.

Mystery opens with a theatrical, shadow puppet style title sequence to introduce the concept of the fantastical aswang, and enchanted flora and fauna. Adjacent to it is a human colony or more precisely a village, whose inhabitants are forewarned not to enter the protected forest. Else, they would change their bodily form or would not come back alive. The prologue proceeds. A village woman is raped by a man doing a bidding of a priest. The libidinous clergyman tries to silence the raped woman who has gone crazy by dragging her into the forest. She dies in childbirth, and the forest creatures raise the child as their own.

The entrance ode is unhurried in presenting the girl’s life, from an innocent infant reared on the milk to womanhood coming to terms with her sexuality.

Misterio_3From here, auteur Alix Jr offers an episodal that essentially sets the stage. Stunningly beautiful as a grownup the woman (Solenn Heussaff) cannot speak being reared in bestial manner, but she relays a depth of emotion through body language. The closest encounter with a human kind is when town leader Domingo (Benjamin Alves) ventures into the woods to track an animal and to earn a glorious welcome back home. He calls her “Maria” as she falls for the stranger only to realize that he is deceiving her to sleep with him. She finds out her lover to be in an affair, leading to bitterness and betrayal. And to think, she has been impregnated. Revenge then mutates into a monstrosity, literally and figuratively, until the final act.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” So says the movie tagline which borrows half of a couplet from William Congreve’s 1697 poem The Mourning Bride. Alix renders a world of the unknown that lends a charming archaic feel. But like the often misquoted line, it’s a shame that the genre film falls short as it tries to pirouette to romance at times.

Treatment of the acting seems to have come straight from the play. While its theater-style exposition shows who every character is in their dialogue, ancilliaries narrate what is happening on their scenes. The visual effects fulfill their purpose and it’s worth to mention Radha‘s vocals create a richly evocative atmosphere.

Mystery has lot to offer though as a slow-burn fable, a re-imagination of different trauma of the past, that of the evil hypocrisy of colonization and cruel patriarchy. It plays mediation on morality to vindicate the sentiments of a nation raped, an aswang incarnate.

Mystery of the Night had its world premiere in Canada during the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival Sunday July 14. The festival ran until August 1.

Misterio de la Noche

Director: Adolfo Alix, Jr.; screenplay: Maynard Manansala; writer: Rody Vera; editor: Adolfo Alix Jr.; produces: Jonas Gaffud, RS Francisco, Sam Versoza; cinematographer: Albert Banzon; music and costume designer: Radha; production designer: King Arthur Maningas; sound: Pier Marco Javier. Rating: Not rated. In Filipino, with English subtitles. Running time: 106 mins.

Starring: Solenn Heussaff, Benjamin Alves, Gina Alajar, Elizabeth Oropesa, Allan Paule