I’m happy that Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles is doing well. At least, that’s what their press releases are saying. (Of course, box office grosses of Philippine movies are routinely padded, but hey, let’s not rain on their parade.) So let me applaud the producers behind Tiktik for daring to go beyond the usual trends. (Imagine had they made Natiktikan: The Secret Aswang Affair. One shudders at the thought.) But let me also tell you why it didn’t work for me.
I am not sure if Tiktik wants to be a horror-comedy movie, or a horror movie with comedy. The nearest template I can think of is Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk ‘Til Dawn. It takes its time setting up the situation (two brothers hijacks a family and find themselves in a bar full of vampires) before all hell breaks loose. Dusk succeeds because the audience isn’t sure if any of the leads will survive ‘til dawn. And its over-the-top gore actually makes sense: the gore keeps things horrifying, while its outrageousness adds comedic value.
In contrast, there was never any real threat to Lovi Poe or her baby, especially when the latter was dropped from midair (rendering the slow-mo effect superfluous). You knew that Dingdong Dantes will manage to save the day despite, or precisely because, of his aggressive nature, and will do so while looking like the Bench model that he is, with sexy soiled sando and shoulders shiny with sweat. (In fact, I think the movie missed an opportunity here. The filmmakers should have knocked his character done a notch or two.) Even the death of two major characters did nothing but merely increase the body count.
For a horror-comedy to succeed, the horror should be solid. And for horror to succeed, the audience must accept the set-up. Dantes is a fairly competent actor, and in this movie he manages to be both an asshole and likable. But his excessive gung ho attitude in the first part fizzles. Was this the filmmakers attempt to make him more palatable? It would have made more sense (and a more interesting movie) had his character’s hot-headedness continue to put them is peril throughout the movie, and has to rely on his quick instincts to undo his mistakes.
There has been much ado about the technical aspects of this film. The CGI landscape are marvelous, and really effective in adding to the movie’s mood and tone. The CG creatures, though, need to be less cartoony, and their movements are still as stiff as wire-frame. And we really need to invest in make-up and prosthetics. If it’s not believable gore, it won’t work.
But mostly it’s really the tone which can make or break a film like this. Erik Matti huffs and puffs to push adrenaline levels up. But all that movement isn’t moving. What made me stay was mere curiosity to see how the movie will end.
Honestly, I do want to support local movie makers who dare to push the envelope and offer something new to audiences. But pushing the envelope per se is not enough, and if we as an audience want better movies, let’s not just settle for “at least it’s something new,” or “but the filmmakers were passionate about it.” Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles is but part of the necessary steps in the right direction. I hope that the next ones will get it right.