The night filled with screams of terror and gasps of dread as Davaoeños were treated to a horrific line-up of local and international films. Goosebumps were sure to rise as Cinematheque presented this year’s theme, “Ngilngig”, bringing enough scares, shocks, and even an eerie sense of mystique in the cinema house.
This Halloween season, Atenews offers two movie reviews featuring “OctoGod”, under the Mindanao short films from the Ngilngig Camp section, and “The Seen and Unseen”, an Indonesian feature-length film. The movies were screened during the Ngilngig Asian Fantastic Film Festival, held at Cinematheque Davao last October 25 to 29. Without a doubt, the film festival proved that, despite our fondness of drama and romance, the horror genre and its shades still have a special place both in our hearts and on the big screen.
Last Sunday’s Mindanao short film screening for this year’s Ngilngig festival was a great local horror experience. We get to see different Mindanawon filmmakers vision of what is ngilngig—from the apocalyptic wailings in “Lazaro’s Trip” (won Special Achievement for Story Concept), insightful dialogue and poetry in “Pamalugu” (won Special Jury Prize), to the creepy clerics in “Baruganan” and “Hinulsol”. Among the ten shorts, however, one stood out being remarkable and unique.
Shievar Olegario’s “OctoGod,” I think, dwarfed the rest of the entries. It was a rare blend of techno-psychedelic, and dare I say experimental for its non-dialogue, symbol-filled. Plot points coming up, but trust me when I claim Olegario’s work is spoiler-proof, I’ll explain later.
It begins with a glitchy computer screen—the sight I can only compare to the ‘stars’ you see when you rub your eyes, albeit a rather brighter digital version. Mouse pointer’s darting in all corners, tabs reappearing all over, as we witness in the first shot photos being edited, perhaps alienized, using erratic Warhol-like designs. For a second you’d think you’re watching a time-lapse Adobe Photoshop tutorial online. All while we’re listening to a delirious score and sound by Kit Janbren Aque. Later, messages from what seems to be clients appear and we realize we are looking through the eyes of a struggling graphic designer. Struggling is the descriptive word which will later turn to demented as a cyber demonic entity, an OctoGod, begins to corrupt his world. And the monitor disintegrates. He springs out of bed. We see a drab bedroom, hear gasps.
As I hinted earlier, plot giveaways are no problem because atmosphere is what it is selling. Constant shifts from the real world and cyber nightmares or daydreams make this psychedelic piece a remarkable experience. Boasting disorienting, jerky, and compulsive visuals, “OctoGod” is a nearly successful, emotion-filled attempt of mixing the coldness of technology and the dangers of the human psyche. A horrifying mix.
It is defiant, wild, and mixed with emotions. A member of the audience even called it ‘trippy’ which I can only imagine he spoke with LSD undertone, which fits. Everyone knows technology is everyone’s drug.
Years ago, I’ve seen a similar sci-fi short titled “The Brain Hack” about two students who attempts to communicate with god using scientific symbols. Aside from intriguing concepts, similar in a sense that both began with an epileptic seizure warning and therefore unfriendly to the eyes. But you know a good short film when you don’t dare to look away.
Olegario said he tried to vomit everything in this film. As his debut short, I think he devoured it.
“OctoGod” review written while listening to Nina Simone’s Sinnerman, a song I first heard in the end credits of another great experimental film, by master auteur David Lynch, Inland Empire (2006).
“The Seen and Unseen”
A ghastly moon shone over the silent, dark fields of Bali as a young girl is beckoned to its celestial power. Slowly she made her way to a strange-looking tree as to commune with the spirits of old. Accompanying her were children dressed all in white, rolling and dancing over the thick patches of grass. It was like a dream; it was something out of the ordinary as the girl sang a haunting lullaby that released all her repressed sadness.
“The Seen and Unseen” is a 2017 supernatural drama film directed by Kamila Andini as she masterfully crafts a quiet, thought-provoking film about childhood grief. Set both in the real world and the more supernatural, spiritual realm, the movie follows a juvenile girl, Tantri, on a mystifying journey to accept her twin brother’s eventual demise.
Unlike so many horror movies of today where gore and jumpscares are the norm, the film uses imageries and mood to convey its unusual tale. It is shot in a way that makes it beautifully unsettling and unique as each frame captures the Balinese cultures and ways of life. There is both realness and mystique in the proceedings that it is hard not to appreciate the art here.
Mixed in with harsh realities of physical death and the obscure aspects of spiritual beings guiding the dead to the afterlife, the plot becomes so engrossing that at times the viewer can only be bewildered. The film requires deeper thoughts; it cannot be understood at a surface level, so the audience has to pay attention to every detail, be it the mundane conversations or the non-verbal dance sequences.
Perhaps the highlights of the film are the Balinese animal-based dances. In one scene, Tantri and her brother are dressed like roosters, jumping excitedly from one hospital bed to another and imitating the birds as if they were in a cockfight. Another scene has Tantri dressed in traditional garb dancing in the dark along with ghost children.
These scenes are filled with symbolic meanings ranging from two siblings finding balance with one another to delving in feelings of grief.
Aside from the excellent use of imageries and the spellbinding showcase of Balinese traditions, the film also adeptly utilizes sound and music to allow filmgoers to deeply feel the mood of the story. Sometimes, the music overpowers the senses, thus enabling the moviegoer to share in with the characters’ emotional spiral.
For so many people, the experience of death may be more than just understood in medical terms. For Andini, death is something that is also felt in a supernatural sense. There are spirits (the unseen) that co-exist with the real; the humans and all the material things (the seen) make up the world we live in. And for these, Andini becomes richer in her storytelling tactics blending grounded themes with more incorporeal ones.
As a wonderful showcase of Southeast Asian art, “The Seen and Unseen” excels in conveying a silent, emotional narrative blended in with powerful dances or movements that give audiences an enlightening film about death and acceptance.
In short, I highly recommend this film for people who are looking for more substance in today’s current slate of big-budget blockbusters.