Shrieks of Laughter

'Bulong' could use some trimming, but it's far more interesting than the horror films that we usually produce.

Bulong has given me an image that will not be so easily erased. I do not want to give it away here, because the surprise of how far this film actually goes is part of the satisfaction one will get from it. Suffice it to say that you will know exactly what I’m talking about when you see it. But this one indelible image is just part of what makes the movie fun. Bulong could use some trimming, but it’s far more interesting than the horror films that we usually produce.

Nurse Conan (Vhong Navarro) has been pining for one of his coworkers, Ellen. Despite his constant attention, Ellen has no interest in him. He learns of the belief that whispering a wish to the dead will make it come true. Sure enough, Conan tries it out and quickly receives the benefits. But it turns out that the granting of his wish comes at a price, the ghost of the departed he gave the wish to haunting him constantly to complete a dangerous task. With the help of his friend Oprah (Angelica Panganiban), Conan tries to unravel a powerful curse.

The aesthetics of the modern horror film have homogenized over the last decade. More often than not, horror films rely on the same four or five tricks, lulling people in the false comfort of familiar rhythms. It helps a lot that Bulong is also a comedy, because it seems that the added purpose has allowed the filmmakers to go a bit outside the box. The film doesn’t aim to startle, as most modern horror films do. Instead, it tries to come up with off-kilter images that might stick with the audience. Just on a conceptual basis, the film is a lot more interesting. Rather than your average longhaired ghost, the film provides a couple of images that are far more disturbing. I don’t want to spoil these images, so I will only go as far as commending the film for showing me something both terrifying and hilarious. Seriously, it is messed up, and it once again makes me question the faculties of the MTRCB.

It doesn’t all work. The film’s villain is mostly seen in the beginning as a threatening shadow, which is a pretty clever trick. But later, the film decides to reveal the true form of the villain as a computer-generated monster, which was kind of disappointing. They probably didn’t have the time to polish the special effect, and the result is pretty ugly. In general, when the film decides to go with a big computer effect, it does it clunkily. The story is also weighed down by the demands of mainstream cinema. The film insists on portraying a romance between its two main characters, and it just doesn’t work.

Part of the problem is a lack of any sort of romantic chemistry between Vhong Navarro and Angelica Panganiban. This isn’t to say that the two aren’t terrific, because they are. Navarro brings a lot of great energy to his roles. Panganiban is constantly proving to be one of the compelling actresses in the country. But the two don’t have much of an onscreen spark, and paired with the film’s clumsy handling of the relationship, it all just falls apart.


But as a whole, Bulong is actually pretty enjoyable. Not everything in the story makes sense, and everything gets a little sticky in the third act, but the film is at least trying a few new things. And while not all of those new things work, the ones that do are pretty great. The two leads are pretty talented, and if you can ignore the film’s halfhearted romantic storyline, they deliver the big punchlines with aplomb.

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