Gem in the middle
by Oggs Cruz
If there is one film franchise that represents both the ills and promises of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival, it is Regal Films’ indefatigable Shake, Rattle & Roll. Ever since it was revived less than a decade ago with Shake, Rattle & Roll 2k5, with episodes directed by Rahyan Carlos, Rico Ilarde and Richard Somes, the franchise has continuously stuck with its tried and tested formula of having 3 episodes of diverse scare tactics. It therefore gets predictable year after year.
However, the franchise also presents the proper vehicle for new directing talents to flex their creative muscles within a purely commercial atmosphere. The past few installments have produced great work from filmmakers like Ilarde (Aquarium), Somes (Lihim ng San Joaquin), Jerrold Tarog (Punerarya and Parola), Topel Lee (Aswang), and Mike Tuviera (LRT).
If there is one reason to storm the cinemas and see Shake, Rattle & Roll XV, it would be Jerrold Tarog’s Ulam, which is effective both as a thriller and as an observation of the horrors of marital strife.
Tarog intelligently takes the concept of the infamous dinner scene, the common stage for most marital fights in a lot of films, to form the elements that would finally break apart the problematic marriage of Henry (Dennis Trillo) and Emmy (Carla Abellana).
Henry and Emmy, along with their daughter, move back to the mansion that once belonged to Henry’s grandparents, who disapproved of the couple’s union because of their supposed incompatibility based on their zodiac animals.
When the mansion’s housekeeper (a truly unsettling Chanda Romero) starts to feed the family various meals, they take on the form of their zodiac animals and in turn, violently act out the incompatibility that Henry’s grandparents predicted.
Ulam is deliciously paced, never really hurrying to reveal its secrets. It is also lustrously shot, creating an atmosphere of utmost unease. Tarog’s own musical score adds just the right tension to the proceedings. The episode is a tightly directed effort, one that would put a lot of films with bigger budgets and larger scopes to shame.
Despite all its fantastic elements, Ulam never really loses track of the reality that it is so steadfastly anchored on. The episode is frightening not primarily because of its effective scares but because of how it fluently communicates the horrors of a failing marriage, as seen through the eyes of the affected innocent child.
Santos’ Ahas has a promising concept that sadly gives way to convention. Intalan’s Flight 666 is brashly ridiculous but is self-aware. Tarog’s Ulam is close to a masterpiece, the only episode in the triptych that makes an effort to dig beneath cheap thrills and special effects to dig up things from real life that are truly frightening. Shake, Rattle & Roll XV is obviously uneven. Despite that, it is worth its admission price. Although the installment has a lot to dispose of, it also has a lot for one to behold, to absorb.