The aswang – a fearsome vampire-like creature in Filipino folklore – is hardly an uncommon choice as the subject of local films in the Philippines, but director Richard Somes’ take on this mythical monster is down-right groundbreaking. Finally, an authentically FIlipino fright fest untainted by J-horror!
In a remote small town, where superstitions and witch directors still play a major role in daily life, a young woman returns to her family after a long absence, afflicted with a mysterious illness. As the household copes with caring for her, disturbing incidents start taking place in the village. Livestock are found dead, the carcasses half-eaten, but when people start to disappear as well, the real nightmare begins.
What makes Yanggaw so powerful and compelling is its nuanced focus on the emotional turmoil of those indirectly affected. In addition to the gruesome and bloody scenes, the film plays up the intricacies of familial ties. Burdened with a dark secret and torn loyalties, the sick woman’s kin faces agonizing decisions, and as the crisis escalates, the moral plight of each individual takes on complex and tragic dimensions. The uniformly excellent acting helps set the mood right from the start – an unsettling sense of foreboding – and when the aswang finally appears, the ensuing terror and chaos will make you leap out of your seat.
As the story progresses, you’re kept constantly guessing – and terified. But far from being just a gorefest, Yanggaw shows how a local myth can be made into a superb horror film without sacrificing cultural identity.
– Raymond Phathanavirangoon