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Movie Review: Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B

August 16, 2017       Arts and Culture
Pista ng Pelikulang Pinoy, August 2017
Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B
Pinoy bwakanabitch-monster fans, 
eat your heart out! A new take on
THAT supernatural icon offers a strangely
charming, dark romance for new
adult, horror fans

If you grew up watching Twilight and Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, rejoice!  There is a re-released movie out now, for this year's 2017 Pinoy Film Festival: Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B which delivers all the kicks and cheese you may have missed from new adult horror camp with Twilight and Buffy.  And it is a Pinoy movie to boot.  Something that can potentially be a jump off point for a movie sequel or a TV series for manananggal eternal romance.  Can you dig that?  

The film came out late last year and we missed out on its first run.  Thank goodness, we get to see it again in the August Pinoy Filmfest going on right now.  Officially titled, Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the movies showing from August 16 to 22 are all endorsed by the Film Development Council of the Philippines for local movie fans to enjoy.  Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B is a Quantum Films movie by The IdeaFirst Company studio.

We came to watch this movie not having seen or read any previous reviews or PR interviews to keep our sense of wonder intact and our expectations for the movie not colored by hints of what it is supposed to be like.  The story starts slow, with the usual Pinoy cliche of Nico's
 (Martin del Rosario) family moving into a rundown apartment complex in QC, while Jewel (Ryza Cenon), the resident hidden monster looks on.  And lurks.

At the start of the story, Jewel and Nico get to have some intimate downtime, just chatting and shooting the breeze in a noodle kiosk.  While in between, Jewel as supernatural predator works her secret modus operandi for getting her feeding fix without flying around the city as a leather-winged abomination.  

You don't immediately get that part of the story until the end because the movie director, Prime Cruz, reworked the Pinoy folklore canon about the manananggal as a different kind of transforming monstrocity.  Purists might argue that the Ryza Cenon version of Irma Alegre circa Shake, Rattle and Roll 1 looks too Moe-Moe Kyun-Kyun for the story to work.  And that the monster they depict here looks more succubus than manananggal, but all of this is intentional.

In traditional manananggal lore, the monster is a solitary or brood predator hiding in an isolated hut, off-grid and lives her days as a witch like character, preparing potions and apothecary ingredients while at night preying on sleeping pregnant women by alighting on their nipa hut roofs and lowering her needle sharp tongue to suck the "lamang-loob" aka entrails and fetus like soup or balut through body orifices or directly puncturing the belly.  She also preys on solitary travelers or children caught alone at night by swooping down on them and using her supernatural strength to overpower the human and use her tongue to violently vacuum the person's innards through their eyes, nose or mouth.

Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B works its story magic as a haunting romance between two tragic lives and delivers its payoff as a rescue the princess motif.  Never mind that the princess is a murderous supernatural sex demon who gets a mad-on, hunger rage for human hearts--whenever she is in heat. The soul-haunting, beautiful Cenon preys on various solitary alpha-males and disposes of their bodies as victims of drug pusher rub-outs, with matching cardboard karatula signs reflecting the current plight of society's vicious criminal horde.

Before this MO however, nothing is revealed how she does her schtick and just puts together this new body disposal method to hide her carnage in the timeline of the movie story.  It can be jarring for story narrative purists, because you want to know how this manananggal was able to survive for so long in Quezon City undetected and how old she is already.

But this is not the point of this story of Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B.  It is a romance filled with the requisite charming couple.  With strange and dark things going on.  For goth movie and horror fans, it is a guilty pleasure romance story that just happens to be a manananggal movie.  Bubbly, shy and winsome Ryza Cenon becomes your new Goth cosplay or character devotional icon for the sexy manananggal instead of the dated, sultry and lurking probinsyana of Irma Alegre.  The hero is no longer probinsyano wunderkind Herbert Bautista, but the gym-trainer boxer stud-muffin, Martin del Rosario.  The chemistry between the two does work enough for the movie to pay off within the confines of its theme and the horror gory parts just intensify the romantic character interactions with its own haunting beauty.

The actual reveal of the kind of succubus-styled, manananggal transformation at the end might explain everything and help horror fans be satisfied with the entire conceit the story plays with, and it really does work in its own Pinoy love story treatment: where the prince and the princess run away, into the night, for a promising future happy ending.  

No matter if they are running away from the urban community who just found out that the girl living in their compound was actually the murderous supernatural serial killing monster doing all those dumped body trail 6:30 evening news headlinges.   A legendary manananggal.

Enjoy Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B for all its camp and cheese and Pinoy romance feels.

As well as for its gore and horror tropes.  

There is a lot of haunting and sexy Buffy-style, demoness sauntering into a nightclub moments, as well as actual intimate rituals when a supernatural being feeds on both it's prey's vanity, ego, stupid carelessness and its immortal soul.  Like Scarlet Johannsen's indie alien sci-fi horror movie, Ryza leads unsuspecting victims into a death ritual where she feeds hard and fast.  Not a slow death, ending like soup in a spaceship's fuel tank. Or as in the traditional manananggal feeding manner, getting your innards siphoned off.

Our only complaint may be that if you're going to die in the manner that the manananggal's victims bite the dust in this movie, you should be screaming like a pig.  
Realizing too late that that gorgeous, gorgeous girl at the frou-frou nightclub you got lucky with, is actually going to tear into you and smother your heart in her maws like all girls your mama warned you never to go out with.  

Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B at your nearest cinema complex with a loved one then run off into the night for your own spooky romance adventure. 


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