Film review: T’yanak (no, it’s not a five-star film)

I’m unwilling to fork over money to see a Filipino movie unless:

  • it’s part of Cinemalaya;
  • it stars Piolo Pascual; and
  • it’s highly rated by critics I admire.

Phil Dy is one of those film writers who is so difficult—but not impossible—to please, so when he gave T’yanak a five out of five rating, which is a rarity, I knew I had to see it for myself.

The movie in SM Megamall costs P196, which makes it more expensive than pork buns from Tim Ho Wan. This is strike one.

Strike two: the movie is poorly made. I won’t delve into the technical merits of the t’yanak or the continuity problems, but I absolutely cannot understand why, in the year 2014, we still have movies that are quick to throw out simple logic and integrity out the window in favor of, I don’t know, time constraints? Laziness? I don’t see how budget could have been a problem, especially when all the barrio actors’ wardrobe all look new.

The film made it clear that this particular town, the setting of the entire movie, is a small one such that everyone knows everyone. How can Joeben (Sid Lucero) go on a killing spree in the plaza, at a movie theater, and in a hospital nursery and still be able to freely roam the streets later?

Why didn’t anyone report the plaza incident to the police, especially Julie (Judy Ann Santos), whose forehead was grazed by a bullet? In earlier scenes, her family was big on reporting everything to the police.

Why was Madie (Solenn Heussaff) standing like a mannequin at the end of the nursery scene? Also, she—the skeptic—managed to go to a witch doctor afterward, but not to the police chief, with whom she has shared fishballs earlier?

Why did no one bother to find the missing wet nurse, who clearly has a large family? Again, in a small town, her disappearance would have made news.

Why would Madie kill the t’yanak at night when she could have done it at daytime? Why would she do it alone? In a barrio convinced of the t’yanaks’ existence, she, with her exquisite face and long slender legs, could have easily summoned an entire baranggay for backup.

The t’yanak manages to decapitate a head in seconds at the start of the film, but can’t even get a decent bite out of Solenn, enough to kill her, despite an excruciating number of tries.

Speaking of the start of the film, who pees long enough to have your wife take out an umbrella, mill about the woods, hear a crying baby in the distance, walk toward his cries, see the baby, croon how cute he is, wrap him with her shawl, scream in agony, and get murdered by decapitation? Joeben is too young to have prostate issues.

The movie treatment itself was confusing: you have these docu-style camera movements (shaky and zoomed to show us the actors’ nostrils), but paired with melodramatic, mainstream-studio scoring that doesn’t end. For a gritty, town murder scene, everything looked so sanitized and staged, with bright colors popping everywhere. Even the lighting had no integrity—a supposed cave in the thick of the forest was better lit than most restaurants at BGC.

Phil praises the film for being “heavily committed to the sensibilities of the monster movie” while “(finding) the emotional and psychological core of the story and raises it to new dramatic heights.” He’s referring to Julie’s dream of bearing a child and how her inability to do so made her irrational about keeping the t’yanak.

This premise attempted to bear the weight of the entire movie—it had nothing else going on. So much so that when Julie learns that the t’yanak was responsible for her grandmother’s death—the news of which shocked her tremulously in an earlier scene—she later curiously eschews this discovery to keep the filmmakers from rewriting the unreasonably flawed script.

The result was such that when the actors gave it their all during the dramatic moments (in fact, too much, particularly in Sid Lucero’s case), it was so funny because they all looked like they’ve been Punk’d by the directors and scriptwriters (Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes). Too bad because there was in fact, decent acting here, even from the relative newcomer Solenn. The film’s treatment, the script, and their characters’ responses weren’t all making sense.

There was nothing new, nothing groundbreaking, there were no “new dramatic heights.” It wouldn’t deserve as much as a footnote in the annals of Filipino movie history (for 2014, even) as Phil seems to make it appear in his review.

And that is strike three.

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