Dark Fruits

But... I prefer watermelons

It is fairly meritorious what Alvin Yapan has done, he took the elements of common Filipino fear and infused it into his current Cinemalaya offering, Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe, under the banner of pontifical local feminism no less. As with small-town frights, the bucolic atmosphere is first scratched by a gossip, seemingly innocuous whispers, a small bird disemboweled on the clean grass. Then it begins, under the picnic cloth of hardworking rural artisans and artificial marital civility lie a darkness that if viewed closely, is scarcely different from the desire that created it.

And how cleverly the disconcerting insinuations have been woven, which along with a few stylistic flourishes, effectively comprise the better half of the film. It almost has that Blair-Witchian factor, I never took a second thought on how disturbing a patchily woven basket of mangosteens could be. Along with some sibilant window calls stitched on a quiveringly restrained but brilliant musical score, the production has achieved a contextually nuanced film that burrows itself into a reluctantly curious consciousness. Yapan is truly a director of his time, technically proficient and with a flair for emotional urgency. Yet the film is not entirely preachy, not exactly what I would expect from something endorsed by the Women’s Crisis Center. Still it is a cautionary tale, shattering the stereotype that all abused women are bleating weaklings. Irma Adlawan’s Fe is no wilted lamb, but her helplessness provides another crude specter of societal inequity, just the type of message the foundations are gunning for. Hence it is unclear if the movie’s core lies in eliciting fear or social outrage. If you wish to scare, suck blood, if you want a rally, paint with it. One must not push to do both. The ambivalence could certainly be off-putting to the pedestrian gatherer, but what do you expect from an indie film?
Another aspect of Panggagahasa that fulfilled expectations was the title character. Rapture, rape, and the ravenous were all portrayed with an unyielding constancy that only Adlawan could deliver, the male characters only served as rocks on the opposite sides of the fulcrum. Ever since Pusang Gala Adlawan has already exhibited a noteworthy thespian range that could approximate the breath of the modern Filipina’s psyche. In this movie that frail and elusive landscape is accentuated more with excruciating quietude than screams of pain, truly a Filipina proclivity. Black-eyes veiled under stupid excuses, ignorance mistaken for womanly trust, so silent the usages of that unfunny wound. The pleasure is portrayed similarly, but the fact that it was portrayed at all is reason enough for celebration. True to his artistic predilections, Yapan is tastefully fearless in his endeavors. The rape scene was graciously no Irreversible and the longer take of Fe burying the black fruits of her trepidation yielded so much more of the intrinsic state-of-affairs of an abused individual.

Mainstream horror films could certainly learn from this movie. Presently there is a cavity that is clawing to be filled. The franchise should start realizing that in fear, less is more. Directors from Thailand understand this, so why is the catching up so belated. This is what Yapan employed which made his work quite effective that is until the ending, definitely risky and perhaps potentially disastrous almost to the point of negating the effect that the entire movie has accumulated. But the risk is a product of his generation. Weaned with magical realism his was an expected seduction, ultimately to show the object of dread only for it to share an almost avuncular caveat to the furniture-making enemy lover. It could have been worst. I thought Fe was going to get banged on the newly carved Sala piece. In the end, post-modern directors cannot help but to be ironic, whether they decry postmodernism or not. It’s charming though. Why choose your carabao-oriented husband Dante (Nonie Buencamino), or Arturo (TJ Trinidad) for that matter when you can have a real man, one who’s not really a man, who lives in a tree of undying love. Who says there’s no romance in fear?
Written by: Alex Milla (Guest Critic)

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