Monday, 25 September 2006

Sukob (2006)

Lo-fi horror strikes back

Most Asian horror movies are rubbish nowadays, and I say this without exaggeration. Little children in white body paint and thin females lurching and crawling about in long wigs while dripping gallons of water from the ceiling may have been scary in Ju-on, The Ring and Dark Water, but theirs is a scare factor that decays over time: by the 3rd or 4th movie, you’ll be sniggering each time these fixtures pop up. It’s not just familiarity, but the increasingly poor and shoddy execution and writing that is putting a natural limit to the Asian horror phenomenon.

And this may be the year where everything blows up for the genre! Witness this year’s Black Night, where third rate directors from Hong Kong, Thailand, and Japan competed to see who could create a scarier movie based on puddles of water and people in white makeup. What about Voice, the famous horror movie featuring lesbianism and lots of theatre-grade blood, and a last minute Korean-style plot twist that is as incoherent as it was unexpected? Or Ghost Game, the tasteless and hilarious horror movie about a reality show in a former concentration camp? No wonder directors like Akio Yoshida (The Haunted Apartments) feel it more appropriate to make fun of the exhaustion of the genre and to go into horror comedies instead.

There is, however, a silver lining in Sukob, a Filipino horror film that sets itself as the mirror image of the entire recent Asian horror tradition. When Sandy (Kris Aquino) begins to see visions of a ghostly child shortly before her wedding, and then her close friends start disappearing after the ceremony – and in the presence of that child – suspicions begin to arise that she or her husband have broken one of the many complicated arcane wedding taboos, which actually exist in Filipino society and are popularly believed.

As far as horror films go, Sukob feels traditional, far removed from the universe of urban horror, with its viruses lurking in videotapes and ghosts lurking in the wireless network. Yet several features make it more than a filmed version of an old folktale, and elevate it to the status of a true horror classic. This includes high production values, slightly better than average acting, and a genuine love of the camera that shows up in variety of scenes, settings and filming techniques that are used in the movie.

The Ring, Haunted Apartments, etc


Protagonists are urbanites

Protagonists have village roots

Human relationships: lonely, individualised

Human relationships: intertwined

Protagonists are surrounded, aided by friends

Protagonists are surrounded and aided by kin

Goosebump factor: you are really alone in this world, and no one can hear you scream

Goosebump factor: everyone is really related to one another, and there’s no running away

Epidemic of deaths: forcibly integrating individuals into a faceless mass of horror (getting infected, turning into zombies, becoming one of the ghosts)

Epidemic of deaths: breaking down the network of family and close friends of protagonists (by infecting them, turning them into zombies, turning them into the ghosts…)

Sukob is not exactly blood-curdling, even with its occasionally loud soundtrack and objects jumping suddenly in the middle of the screen. That being said, the movie does make up for its lack of scares through its creepiness and subtle sense of dread – just like the best and earliest movies from the J-horror tradition. What’s even better is that Sukob achieves all these on its own terms, mining its own native culture and traditions, and resisting the urge to mindlessly and incompetently lift off elements from Japanese horror films. One wishes that other Asian horror movie directors will learn a lesson Chito Sono.

First published at incinemas on 28 September 2006

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