Big Night! (Jun Robles Lana, 2021)

In the opening scenes of Jun Robles Lana’s darkly comic farce Big Night! a young man is shot in the head by another young man, this one wearing a motorcycle helmet with its visor down, who calmly walks away and gets back on the back of the bike he arrived on his friend then driving them both away. Of course people are shocked but then again not all that much, they barely pause despite the fact that his man, Ronron, was well known to them and no one really thought he had much to do with drugs. Beautician Dharna (Christian Bables) gossips about the killing with his friend Biba but gives it little thought before returning to his day, so normalised has death on the streets become in Duterte’s Philippines. 

Dharna may not have given much thought to extrajudicial killings, but then it’s different when it’s you who might be next in the firing line as he discovers when Biba gets an advance view of the following day’s “Watch List” from her law enforcement boyfriend. What ensues is a kafkaesque quest to clear his name though there’s no real “official” path towards getting off a watch list when you’re on one. His boyfriend Zeus who is due to perform in a “Big Night” pageant at a local gay bar that very night suggests simply fleeing to another district, but flight implies guilt and as Dharna points out he’ll lose all his customers if he has to move to another area and neither of them have the money to start all over again somewhere new. Like many of Dharna’s friends and acquaintances Zeus doesn’t seem to share his concern. “The police won’t bother you if you’re not doing anything illegal” he naively advises, sure it’s all just a random mistake that soon will blow over but otherwise so numbed to the idea of extrajudicial killing that he doesn’t really think too much of it and is mainly annoyed that Dharna has lost interest in helping finish his costume for the big show. 

Neither of them can think of a reason why Dharna, under his full legal name, would have been placed on a list as he’s not a drug user and doesn’t know anyone who is. He does, however, have some useful connections including local law enforcement official Cynthia who isn’t terribly interested or helpful but manipulates his anxiety to force him to help her out by filling in for her regular mortician, Connie, who has mysteriously not shown up for work. The morgue is currently overflowing, Cynthia making a dark joke that undertaking is a growth industry while revealing that there are so many bodies in part because families have to pay a fee to get them back and most of those involved in extrajudicial killings are from the slums so they can’t afford it. Even so, she explains to Dharna that they get more donations when families can see the body which is why he’s supposed to make them up to look as good as they can despite many of them having sustained gunshot wounds to the head or face. 

Cynthia sends him on to local community leader Roja warning him that he’s “allergic to gays” while he too makes Dharna do his bidding pointlessly walking laps around a fountain in some sort of macho display of endurance while insisting that he’s so anti-drug that even if he gets a stomach upset he just powers through it with raw masculine energy. He too is a self-interested hypocrite spouting religious nonsense while hanging out in “massage parlours”, dangling the idea of salvation but unprepared to grant it. Dharna wonders if it might have been someone from the area where he grew up who reported him but discovers that unlicensed midwife Melba (Janice De Belen) makes a point of not putting any names forward at all and is herself willing to risk breaking the law to help women in need who are denied medical treatment because of their poverty.

It’s impossible to avoid the implication that this is happening to Dharna in part because he’s poor and powerless in an authoritarian and hierarchal society but he’s eventually forced to consider that someone may have put his name in a drop box anonymously, that perhaps they gave a random name when someone asked for one to save their own, because they had something against him, or sought to profit in some way from his absence. Like the witch trials of old, the war against drugs is another tool that can be manipulated for personal gain and so inured to violence has the society become that many are prepared to use it. Dharna finds himself at the centre of a random conspiracy in which he has no other option than to accept his complicity or die, discovering that as the radio report that opened the film had suggested the same officials in charge of prosecuting the war on drugs are in fact secretly using it to secure their stranglehold over the local drugs trade. 

Dharna finds himself compromised at every turn, beginning by offering free haircuts to help his case to progressing to covering up state crime, literally, by repairing the faces of the dead and graduating to faking a seizure in an ambulance to bypass a checkpoint. At the hospital he is confronted by the face of an old lady filled with despair one hand holding that of a little girl and the other a pair of bloody sandals before she simply collapses. Dharna tries to wash the sandals clean but there’s only so much you can do when the stain runs so deep. The irony of his big night taking place on All Souls Day is not lost though there’s precious little time for honouring the dead when your survival can no longer be assured. 


Big Night screens at UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley, San Diego April 23/27 as part of this year’s SDAFF Spring Showcase.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

The Monster Chronicles: Tiktik (Erik Matti, 2012)

Tik tik posterReview of Erik Matti’s Philippine folklore/comic book inspired horror movie The Monster Chronicles: Tiktik (also known as Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles) up at UK Anime Network.


An “aswang” is a supernatural monster from Philippine folklore which is basically a vampire, zombie and were-creature all rolled into one. Appearing just like everyone else in everyday life, the aswangs can disguise themselves as various animals in order to trick unsuspecting people into letting their guard down so they can feast on their hearts and livers. Aswangs are particularly fond of the flesh of unborn babies and will even attempt to sneak into the homes of unsuspecting expectant mothers to suck the child from their very wombs as they lie peacefully asleep.

All of this is very bad news for metropolitan city slicker Makoy who’s managed to trek all the way out to a remote village backwater hoping to win back his heavily pregnant girlfriend who has left him after finally becoming fed up with his total uselessness. However, his efforts seem to have been in vain as Sonia, the possibly ex-girlfriend, doesn’t even want to see him and her domineering mother Feley is dead against this dead beat city boy who’s got her daughter pregnant coming anywhere near her family ever again. Luckily, Sonia’s father, Nestor, is a little more open to the idea of a reconciliation with his grandchild’s father and eventually invites him to stay for Sonia’s birthday celebrations.

At this point Makoy decides to make himself useful by haggling down the price of a pig for roasting at the party, only after managing to pay a whole lot less he ends up with a whole lot more than he bargained for. The local villagers all turn out to be a colony of aswang and now they know about Sonia’s unborn baby it’s not long before all hell breaks out at the prospective parents-in-law of the previously feckless Makoy!

Director Erik Matti (perhaps best known for his urban crime thriller On the Job) opts for a comic book inspired aesthetic by emphasising the artificiality of his studio bound film through noticeably fake CGI backgrounds. Playing out like a Philippine From Dusk Till Dawn, the film has an ironic, pop-culture filled humorous tone and further brings out its comic book trappings through the frequent use of split screens which divide the frame almost like panels do a comic book page. The slightly old fashioned appearance of the split screens coupled with the heightened colour scheme and CGI graphics also add a retro appeal which helps to create the crazy, almost cartoon-like universe in which the film takes place.

However, even if Tiktik has a Saturday morning toon aesthetic, it’s very much an adult affair filled with blood, guts and viscera. An old lady sitting next to Makoy on the cart into town ominously seems to be carrying a large bag of intestines which only seems to foreshadow events to come which will see Makoy wielding a large pitchfork with the guts of an aswang coiled around it like the messiest spaghetti you’ve ever seen.

The aswang might be known for their transforming powers but the real transformation we’re being asked to witness of that of Makoy himself as he plays the classic “stranger in town” role whose arrival is the catalyst for everything going to hell. In the beginning Makoy is an arrogant townie who can’t quite believe the backwardness of this tiny village with no cellphone signal or transport options. He arrogantly assumes he can haggle and barter with the locals by treating them with a superior attitude and the distain of a recent visitor from “civilisation”. This only earns him the additional ire of the aswang who are now, quite literally, out for blood. Sonia may have left him because of his laid back, slacker ways but if he wants to save her and their baby from being devoured by slavering, ugly monsters that no one quite believes in anymore, he’ll finally have to man up.

Makoy manages a little better than Sonia’s father, Nestor – a mild mannered and kind man who loves his fierce wife very much but still can’t quite find the necessary strength within himself to protect his family. If Makoy is to succeed he’ll have to jump into the shoes of a father with both feet, taking charge of a situation which he is not fully equipped to understand.

The film neatly divides itself into two halves with the set-up economically established early on giving way to the aswang assault. Though the action scenes are often exciting and inventive with a fair bit of humour thrown in, Tiktik loses momentum when it switches from the CGI enhanced actors to the completely CGI creatures which are never quite convincing. A genre affair throughout, Tiktik will undoubtedly play better to the Midnight Movie crowd (as it is intended to do) but uninitiated viewers may find themselves tiring of the gore tinged action long before the last aswang is split in twain.


The Monster Chronicles: Tiktik is out now in the UK from Terracotta Distribution following its appearance at the Terracotta Festival in 2014.