Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles
For those who wish for a good laugh, watch Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles. For those looking to be terrified, watch another movie. Over-all the movie has good pro-life values, especially the defense of the unborn. The Filipino aswang mythology is standard, except for some parts. The movie touches on the importance of marriage and family. The Catholic worldview, however, is absent, because there is no mention holy water, crucifix, blessed palms, and churches.
The three characters that stand-out are Joey Marquez (Nestor), Janice de Belen (Fely), and Dingdong Dantes (Makoy) in that order. Lovi Poe (Sonia) is weak and so are most of the villains. Remove Joey Marquez and the movie would fall flat. Joey’s character is the most dynamic: from docile to decisive, from sane to lunatic, from coward to fearless. And his characterization is believable. Janice de Belen is static but perfect: her change of character is only when she is being gnawed–not enough time to show off. Dingdong gives a good characterization of a proud and rich Manila Boy, but I would wish to see a shift to a sober mood, even for a moment, such as when Sonia drops the bomb that he doesn’t have a regular job. Lovi has a weak characterization of her role, except for two brief shining moments: when she shut the door against Dingdong at the beginning of the story and when her face is focused on the camera during the climax of the battle–she’s a woman to die for. The human pig is memorable and so is the aswang girl whose two arms were chopped off. Roi Vinzon as the head aswang community conveys strength and power, but he loses his aura when he turned into a flying monster–that big bird by the way is not canonical in aswang lore, though the chick inside him is.
The plot is a travel to four separate places: Sonia’s home, the marketplace, the military checkpoint, and the sari-sari store. There are three waves of assaults: the crazed teenagers at the marketplace stopping a jeep, the attack of the family of the human-turned-pig at Sonia’s home, the race to the checkpoint and back to the home, the assault of the aswang head at Sonia’s home, the slow-mo action at the sari-sari-store, and the last battle at the salt sands.
What could have been done is to divide the story into two movies: 1) the assault of the first family and 2) the assault of the aswang community. In this way, there would be continuity in the story line. The discovery of the assault the following day would make the aswang community lay low and the villagers would try to guess who the aswangs are.
The movie could have benefited from a lore-master character(s) who shall explain what to avoid being eaten–salt, garlic, stingray’s tail. These things should have different levels of potency before, during, and after the shape-change. If all aswangs simply burns to ashes, even with Boy Bawang, it becomes boring. Aswangs are flesh and blood: they should burn like sprayed with hot lead under salt, they should be hit like a bullet if with a large garlic, and the stingray tail should curl around muscles and bones. There should be different levels of pain, and this is best exemplified by the classic Herbert Bautista’s aswang in Shake, Rattle, and Roll: the pain of salt is more tolerable than the blessed palm. The loremaster shall also explain whether a normal human being can be an aswang–saliva, scratch, bite, or transfer of chick. And the transformation may not be at will but depends on the full moon. Also, the time span need not be a day and a night. Some quests have to be involved to acquire salt or garlic or stingray’s tail and each quest must have its own dangers.
The aswangs are one dimensional: they are just there to be killed. There is no anguish. No moral decisions to make. So their deaths do not mean anything. Rivalry for the love of Sonia could have been exploited for the tension if an aswang was in love with Sonia. The turning of Makoy into an aswang because of his bite and scratch would could also be a source of tension and healing him requires a quest or a self-sacrifice. Had their family friend turned into an aswang after being bitten, there would be a true dilemma there when his joke on being an aswang becomes a reality. That could have been the climax and the assault of the entire aswang community should be part of another movie. According to Aristotle in his Poetics, the main actor and the villain must be former friends, family members, or lovers for the climax to unfold. Otherwise, the plot fails and the movie leaves you with nothing but the sound of a good laugh that soon dies away.
The second part could have benefited from good CGI. The landscape is good: I barely notice that it is CGI. The aswang graphics, which has similarity with the vampires in the Priest movie, are not smooth. Jumping requires knowledge of parabolic motion in physics: you slow down as you reach the highest point and gain speed faster as you go down. But the jumping dogs in the movie tend to float and the movements of their four legs needs to be properly coordinated. The landing in the roof should also make a sound and dent on the roof. There could also be close-ups of the aswang faces. Not all aswangs should have the same powers. Even if they are all dog-beasts, some should be weaker and some should be stronger, and they must be clearly distinguishable. Resident evil, for example, has different classes of creatures with different powers and weaknesses. In the movie, there is not much distinction.
An aerial view of the house and the neighboring houses (especially the sari-sari store) prior to the assault could have been useful, especially during the attack itself. It would give the viewers the context of the creeping doom, and whether escape is really possible. The transfer from Sonia’s house to the sari-sari store is a drama by itself. Can they really run fast enough while Dingdong is carrying his pregnant wife? Halfway he could have tripped and their escape could have been discovered. The aerial view of the houses would provide the basis for the feasibility of the escape. Or at least a debate among the family members whether such escape is possible: the path to take and the plan to avoid detection. But the movie cleverly tried to hide it by the characters agreed not to make noises and only one made shouted at last to summon the aswangs to destroy them in a self-sacrifice. Somewhat believable, but not quite.
Pro-Life and Catholic Reading
The movie has a strong pro-life message: the man must have the courage to defend the woman and the child within her womb. The most memorable words are when Makoy calls Nestor, “Tatay” or “Father”. A bond has been formed between Makoy and his father-in-law because a bond has been formed between Makoy and Sonia: a child. The last image of the movie is a baby falling in the air. To “fall” in Filipino is “laglag”. If the baby was aborted, the term is “nalaglag ang bata” or “the baby fell”. But Sonia was able to catch her falling baby. Figuratively, she did not abort the child. This is what the Catechism says regarding abortion:
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law…
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”77 “by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.
The aswangs, which are drawn to the smell of a pregnant woman and who loves the taste of babies flesh especially just after birth, reminds us of the pro-abortion groups like Likhaan and Akbayan in the Philippines or the Planned Parenthood in the US. We can even liken Pres. Obama as the head aswang because of his long continuous track record for promoting abortion and Planned Parenthood, even allowing a baby to die in partial-birth abortion, where the baby’s brain is sucked out before the head leaves the womb, even though the baby’s body was already out.
There was a point in the movie when Sonia declared that if her child was killed by the aswangs, it is also fitting that she should also be killed. But Makoy rebuked her. Despair, in Catholic Theology, is a sin against the First Commandment:
2091….By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice – for the Lord is faithful to his promises – and to his mercy.
The night may bring out dog-demons, carrion birds, and pig-like orcs, but each day brings new hope with the breaking of the dawn.