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October 06, 2009


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Mark Reyes - 2002
Regal Entertainment Region 1 DVD

There is a universality to Tiyanaks as a PG-13 style horror movie about dumb kids who do dumb things. This is the kind of film where it is almost a given that provided with just enough clues, the audience would rather not tread in the places where these fools rush in. But what makes the film almost worth a look is that this is a very culturally specific kind of horror movie.

As a Filipino horror movie, one might carp about the quality of the acting and the special effects. One might also complain that there's nothing particularly scary or even suspenseful. What is of interest is that the monsters are from Filipino mythology. Also, the film is steeped in Catholic belief that is different than what is shown in most western films. The action takes place during the weekend before Easter, with a group of college students off to a remote house for the holiday. Right before leaving, most of them have attended the class of Professor Earl, who is teaching a class on Filipino folk beliefs. The kids are taken by van, driven by a man who forgets which way to turn at the fork in the road. Of course he takes the wrong way, and the kids eventually find themselves at a mansion in the middle of a forest, home of a woman and her young boy. The woman reluctantly allows the kids to spend the night at her house. The kids, of course, leave the house at night in spite of the warning to stay inside, looking for food who knows where, after being told that they are about three hours away from the closest city.

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One of the recurring lines stated by the mother is that, because it is Holy Week, "God is dead". As the subtitles seem to be reasonably well translated, I have to assume that this is a reflection of Filipino Catholic belief that is idiosyncratic to that country. While driving to the retreat, two men are seen, one with a thorn cross, both engaged in self flagellation. The tyanaks are fought off with the rubbing of a small personal cross, a knife hidden inside a wooden cross, the splashing of holy water and even a prayer of baptism when one of the little monsters is trying to drown one of the young women. The tiyanaks, at least the ones in this film, seem to reflect lingering beliefs in animism, both in their linking with the elements of fire, water and air, but in their shape shifting ability that helps them blend into their forest environment. Scariest of all is that the tiyanaks have more personality than their human victims.

Tiyanaks was reportedly a big hit for Filipino audiences. I'm not sure if the big draw was a more contemporary take on an old myth, or the popularity of some of the stars, especially Rica Paralejo. There may not be much of a compelling reason to bother with a film like Tiyanaks other than that it can serve as proof Asian horror films are in no way generic, and that a film made primarily for commercial gain can reveal much to the audience about the culture of its origin.

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Posted by peter at October 6, 2009 12:37 AM


Good Kill Face fodder here!

Posted by: ARBOGAST at October 10, 2009 08:28 PM