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October 15, 2009


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Yam Laranas - 2004
Regal Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Yam Laranas bears the distinction of not only being the first Filipino filmmaker to have his film remade in a bigger budget English version, but to do the remake himself. That version, titled The Echo, has ended up going straight to DVD in the U.S., although it has enjoyed theatrical distribution elsewhere. Comparisons between the two version will be made by others in November while I'll be devoting my time to the Denver International Film Festival. For those who would rather not wait, or are simply in the mood for a horror film more interested in general creepiness rather than gore, Sigaw is a modestly effective film.

With apologies to James Whale, but this current century seems to see the creation of a sub-genre that might be called "the old, dark apartment". Basically it involves a character who moves into a decrepit apartment building most people would just as soon move out of. The apartment almost always features a big, ugly stain on the ceiling, faulty fixtures, and just enough noise to keep most people from sleeping at night. There may or may not be any other neighbors that one meets, but there seems to be someone or something that appears out of nowhere with the goal of make life more nerve wracking. There's almost always a mystery child. The ghosts that hang around the building do so because of some unresolved issue that causes them to repeat the actions that lead to their death. The ghosts are usually only seen by the person who had the misfortune of moving into the wrong apartment where tragedy took place years before.

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Then again, maybe the story is besides the point, and that there is a sense of comfort for a genre film to follow a familiar arc. This might be comparable to a classic western that we watch anyways, always with the knowledge that Randolph Scott-John Wayne-Robert Mitchum will save the day, or at least make things more right than before he showed up. Yam Laranas basically took a familiar story, but what make Sigaw of interest is how he made use of some relatively spartan resources.

A young man who works at a restaurant, Marvin, has taken his entire small inheritance and bought an apartment in the ugliest building in Manila. His girlfriend, Pinky, tries to talk Marvin into moving out to a nicer place. Meanwhile, Marvin is kept awake at night by the neighbors, an angry cop who is convinced his wife is cheating on him and that he is not the father of their daughter. Things get more troublesome when the neighbors start appearing in Marvin's dreams.

This first version has a relatively small cast primarily using six actors. Laranas did the cinematography himself, with much of the action taking place deliberately in a sickly blue-green light. I've seen alleys better lit than the interior of the apartment. One of the most visually striking scenes is of the tightly wound spiral staircase, looking almost like the inside of a seashell. The film is one of several that paired Richard Gutierrez with Angel Locsin. While acting in Filipino films leans towards the melodramatic, Laranas is able to tone it down to a more realistic level. Without giving away spoilers, Locsin impressed me during the last third of the film in a very physically demanding scene when she thinks she is alone in an empty apartment. Laranas makes creative use of sound near the end of the film, which explains the echo referred to by the title.

For those interested, here is an interview with Yam Laranas.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 15, 2009 12:14 AM