In 1992, Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes teamed up under Lily Monteverde’s Regal Films to make Aswang, one of the Philippines’ most notable monster movies to-date. It had Aiza Seguerra and Manilyn Reyes as the leads and featured a young Alma Moreno in the title role. Almost two decades later, Jerrold Tarog and Lovi Poe are given the task to recreate the classic. Jansen Musico watches it unfold.
Lovi Poe wants to rip your heart out. “The thought of me transforming into an animal just drives me wild,” she says with calm excitement. Behind her flawless bronzed complexion, striking feminine features and sultry voice is a bloodthirsty demon ready to hunt you down, pry open your chest, and eat your insides raw. “I’m an ab-wak,” she explains. It’s the shape shifting hybrid of a human, uwak, and bayawak in Jerrold Tarog’s Aswang, a loose retelling of the ’90s original.
The plots of both films are pretty much the same, but Jerrold’s version is a creature of its own. Much like its evolved monsters, the new Aswang has also become a hybrid, a mash-up of horror, suspense, action, and a little romance on the side. It follows two kids who witness the murder of their parents and flee to the province with the assassins in tow. They end up getting stuck in a small town terrorized by the ab-waks. Lovi plays Hasmin, the renegade trying to stop her clan from making hors d’oeuvres of the young orphans.
“I see myself as Hasmin… I like doing things on my own. The more you dictate what I should do, the more I won’t do it,” says Lovi in a gung-ho fashion reminiscent of her father’s. Fortunately, her display of independence didn’t give her director any headaches. Jerrold, whom Lovi has a hard time calling sans the “direk” salutation, “was really cool. He’s very meticulous, but he lets me do what I want.” Jerrold’s style certainly pays off. Lovi’s fluid crisscross from innocent farm lass to a flesh-eating freak allows her to showcase her natural acting chops. Lovi’s Hasmin blends in seamlessly with the richly textured shots and sets care of Mackie Galvez and Ericson Navarro. She slips in and out of her scenes with ease, taking all of the viewers’ attention with her. Of course, that comes with the exception of her shots with Marc Abaya, a guy whose scene-stealing days have yet to find their end. But as for her first-time attempt at headlining a horror movie, Lovi’s efforts were really good.
Though Aswang may also be his first full-length horror flick, Jerrold has already proven himself to be a master of scares. Last year’s Punerarya episode in Shake, Rattle, and Roll (SRR), which featured a kicking and screaming Carla Abellana, was a unanimous crowd favorite. His effort was so well-received that he’s been tapped to take on another SRR episode this year. He’ll be directing alongside indie heavyweights Richard Somes, the man behind Yanggaw, and Chris Martinez, the guy who penned both Kimmy Dora and Ang Babae sa Septic Tank.
“I’m prepared to lie low in this installment,” Jerrold says, “Somes is way up there when it comes to this genre. He’s mastered atmosphere. As for myself, hopefully I’ll come up with something worthwhile and unique to the series.” His modesty precedes him, but his work says otherwise. With Aswang, Jerrold is able to showcase his strength in both editing and music. His expertise in composing—Jerrold having taken it in college and scoring several films over the years—really factors into creating the mood not only on screen but behind the camera as well.
“He has a sexy time playlist, [and] I’m going to ask for a copy.” Lovi laughs, recalling the set of tracks Jerrold played in the background during one of the shoots. His propensity for sound makes perfect sense. It gets his cast in character, and it also dictates the flow of the story. Jerrold explains, “Music and film are time-based art forms. You can use the structure of the score to structure the film.” In one sequence he goes mellow, playing with a soft and gentle mix of keys and strings, as he follows a carefree Hasmin, floating like nymph in the forest. He then swiftly shifts the tone with the progressive addition of percussions and aggressive strings signaling a brewing encounter between the ab-waks and assassins.
Jerrold, much like Richard and Chris before him, is a fine example that independent sensibilities can thrive within the mainstream machine, even if that machine is run by none other than Mother Lily Monteverde. The woman loves her films so much she’s willing to sacrifice formula and market research if it means telling novel stories. But since filmmaking’s still a business, many things had to evolve. It wasn’t only Lovi doing much of the shape shifting in Aswang. Both Jerrold and his crew had to adapt. “It’s always challenging to deal with a studio’s expectations,” he says. “You have to deal with the differences in taste and execution and trying to survive in a schedule that isn’t conducive to reflection and refinements,” but having said that, Jerrold is still very grateful for the opportunity.
Both Lovi and Jerrold are terrific at what they do, and they’re not afraid of revealing that in Aswang. They play to their strengths and adapt when they have to. Jerrold says it’s not compromise. “It’s collaboration. It’s about sharing, not surrendering.” Regal monsters can be scary, and it takes a whole lot of talent, sweat, and guts to survive.