yanggaw

Directed and co-written by Richard Somes and bolstered by fine performances from Ronnie Lazaro, Joel Torre, and Tetchie Agbayani, Yanggaw is touted as one of the best films to ever come out of the CinemaOne Originals greenlighting project. Agreed. Despite obviously being made on the cheap, it humbly stands out as one of the most terrifying and satisfying horror films of the last decade, a period in local cinema that fed mostly on J-horror copycats with half-baked scripts.

Stricken with an unknown illness, a young woman goes home to her family in a farflung village. Her parents do everything within their capacity to help their daughter, but to no avail. It doesn’t take long before they discover that she has fallen victim to a vicious affliction, or yanggaw. She is infected with a mysterious venom that has transformed her into a flesh-eating monster, an aswang. Yanggaw, in rather simple yet effective ways, tells this story, the story of one family headed by a strong-willed patriarch, of what they are forced to do when one of them suddenly turns into something out of the ordinary, something that poses danger not only to others but also to themselves.

While its grimy promotional materials and intriguing synopsis would suggest the opposite, Yanggaw is actually a drama film first and a horror film second. Yes, it is often scary and spine-tingling, but more importantly, Yanggaw is a bloodcurdlingly dramatic study of the values that bind the Filipino family, demonstrating how far one would go—as far as the fringes of morality and sanity, or even beyond—in defense, obligatory or otherwise, of one’s own kin. Aldrin Calimlim

Looking Back: Yanggaw - Hell on Earth Eloisa May P. Hernandez

This is not your run-of-the mill horror movie. There are no special effects or computer-generated images to boast of. No monsters, no gory disfigured creatures. At the crux of Yanggaw is not the horror instigated by the presence of an aswang in a village in a remote town, it is the terror wrought on a family as a daughter is inflicted with an unknown disease that turns her into one.

Yanggaw dwells deep into the transformations - physical and otherwise, of a young woman turned aswang and how her family is forced to deal with her affliction.  Yanggaw’s explores the folklore of the aswang, prevalent in Philippine culture and society, as a disease that one contracts and that health centers and faith-healers do not have the remedy for. The premise of the film, the focus on the family’s moral dilemmas rather than on old, worn-out scare tactics for the sake of a few screams, was promising at the onset, but sadly proved to be its ruin in the end as the film uncontrollably degenerates into excessiveness.

Nevertheless, the initial directorial effort of Richard Somes in feature filmmaking is laudable. Yanggaw is a well-made film employing sound, aural orchestration, visual design, cinematography and editing to strike terror in the hearts of the viewers. The sound and aural orchestration is eerily filled with silences and screams, grunts and groans, evoking fear of the unseen and unsightly. The cinematography is apposite – concealing and revealing in a premeditated and studied manner. The visual design is commendable. All these elements make the fear palpable.

The presence of Tetchie Agbayani (as Inday), Joel Torre (as Dulpo) and Ronnie Lazaro (as Junior) turns Yanggaw into an acting tour-de-force. But it is Ronnie Lazaro that bears the Herculean burden and moral dilemma in Yanggaw. What does a father do when his daughter turns into an aswang? Does he seclude her from the community but pose danger to the other family members? Or does he let her go free to hunt for survival and prey on the townsfolk just so he can protect the other family members?  Junior dictates the fate of his family - patriarchy at its finest and its worst. His entire family follows his lead into the film’s gruesome denouement. Ronnie Lazaro brilliantly rises to the challenge - in the end, we witness Lazaro as he plunges himself and his family into hell. And there is no turning back.

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It is strange also how it took a long time for a film to finally realize onscreen a most original meaning of the aswang belief: that it is not really about a viscera-sucker but more about the metaphor of family/stranger and outsider/insider.