Lovi, Paulo ravenously bite into love and the occult
by Rito P. Asilo
There’s more to Jerrold Tarog’s “Aswang” than its flawed protagonists and blood-sucking creatures
—and we expect nothing less from the director of “Confessional,” “Mangatyanan” and “Punerarya.” At the heart of Tarog’s stirring cautionary tale are Hasmin (Lovi Poe), a barrio lass with a dark secret, and Daniel (Paulo Avelino), a reluctant hitman with more than just murder on his mind and thirst for vengeance in his heart.
Hasmin and Daniel are lost souls yearning for redemption. When their paths eventually cross, they find something even more liberating—love. But, romance is farthest from the minds of Hasmin’s “people,” called the abwak, a lizard- or crow-like variation on the aswang who feasts on human flesh and blood.
Caught in the crossfire of the star-crossed couple’s burgeoning romance are Gabriel and Ahnya (Albie Casiño and Jillian Ward, respectively), who are running away from their parents’ killers. But, the situation gets dicier when the siblings also draw the attention of Hasmin’s ravenous colleagues!
Tarog’s cinematic metaphor of a world gone mad puts a fetching twist to the aswang mythology. In this parallel universe, a tribe of strange creatures gears up for racial domination as their human counterparts continue to wreak havoc on themselves and the world they’re supposed to protect. But, greed and ambition have a way of turning things around.
These dynamics aren’t lost on Poe, who effectively twists, tosses and turns contrasting motivations to breathe life—and fire—into her tortured character. Along with the credible Avelino, lovely Lovi’s firm grip on her role helps tie up loose ends, firm up weak links (Casiño is as wooden as Ward is hammy), and make sense of the unthinkable.
Tarog’s visual and thematic feast has its share of flaws. It is compromised by a meandering second half, in which there are simply too many things going on in the exposition that make the movie less cohesive than it should be. As a result, the production slows down after the abwaks are fully revealed.
Our quibbles notwithstanding, this engaging chiller is unlike any horror flick you’ve seen—it deserves patronage for Tarog’s astute direction, its luscious, crisp images, the ornate tales and otherworldly creatures it successfully imagines—and the engaging insights it offers about the vagaries of love, ambition and survival.