Wednesday, September 19, 2012

San Lazaro


Odd and yet surprisingly insightful, with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek commentary about life, love and Youtube as a learning tool, Wincy Aquino Ong's San Lazaro peddles itself as another Asian horror movie that makes you assume that its focal point is a supernatural entity when in fact, it's all about inner demons---the kind that reside within, the kind that's powerful enough to disregard one's conscience, the type that can gnaw at one's being.

Going by the trailer, it's quite easy to tell that San Lazaro is not the type of  film that is capable of generating the same buzz as Cinemalaya entries like Ang Babae sa Septic Tank or Rakenrol. Neither does it have the mainstream draw of the adaptation of the Eros Attalia novel, Ligo na U, Lapit na Me. And while the premise of having two old schoolmates embark on a road trip to a far flung provincial town with the primary objective of taking a demonically possessed sibling to be treated by an exorcist may trudge on B-movie territory, the film manages to achieve a well-orchestrated dissonance, one that defies genres and intentionally throws off viewers but not without some satisfying revelations.

It can be likened to your uncle's trusty Volkswagen Beetle that's old, personally put together and full of character. Old, not because there's anything unoriginal about the script or the story, but rather old in the sense that it's the best vehicle available given budgetary constraints and its novelty. It's a bumpy and unpredictable ride but what's important is that it gets you to your destination.        

Aptly described as a horror flick, a road movie and a buddy comedy, San Lazaro gives its viewers a weird, disjointed journey into the lives of three individuals haunted by personal ghosts. There's awkward Sigfried (Wincy Aquino Ong) who's never had a girlfriend since birth, brassy Limuel (Ramon Bautista) whose bravado comes with a cache of tranquilizers [strong enough to put down an elephant] and troubled Biboy (Nicco Manalo) who may or may not be under the control of a malevolent spirit. 

Armed with a quirky selection of storylines which include a white collar crime and a woebegone search for Captain Barbell, told alongside the ill-advised transport of an unstable passenger who's spent too much time talking to an antique garden ornament, this is one film that revels in its geekiness and yet manages to tap into certain uncomfortable truths that are funny but not entirely laughable. The horror aspect of it has a distinct Filipino flavor; the random topics that make up the conversations between the characters can come across as either glib or smart but not to the extent of grating, verbal diarrhea, as can be seen in other productions. There's also a general sense of unease that accompanies the staggered flashbacks given the characters' seemingly close-eyed determination to suppress unwanted memories. The deadpan delivery of both Ong and Bautista effectively blurs the comedic and dramatic, while Manalo's commitment to the role serves as a reminder that there are greater forces at play that should not be ignored. 

All said, San Lazaro is not your typical horror flick; it's predominantly a dark comedy with some jarring and amusing turn of events. With special appearances by Bianca King, Julia Clarete, Ely Buendia and Kean Cipriano, and spot on performances from the likes of Allan Forte, Tony Gallano and Earl Ignacio, it's a film with a number of interesting sequences, some even shot with an obvious nudge and wink to make you in on the joke. Hammy, creepy and sobering at one go, from the minute the award-winning opening sequence by Burnwater Design Studios rolls alongside original music by Mikey Amistoso and Jazz Nicolas, you know that you're in for an adventure.

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