MOVIE REVIEW: Mana (2014)

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(Reviewed and delivered in the forum for Mana at Cine Europa Film Festival 2016.)

Most of the time, stories with a lot of characters tend to be confusing with distracting details here and there. But in the case of Gabriel Fernandez’ Mana, there is enough exposure given to each character who comes from the same root—the matriarch of the family (Fides Cuyugan-Asensio) who happens to be on the verge of death.

Notice the paint on the wall chipping and dirty as if to say that things got to be neglected or to mirror the mess that the family has made out of itself. What was first a high-profile family is now seeking for privacy in the middle of a family crisis.

Everyone is worried about the security of getting the inheritance passed on to the rightful heir. No one is flawless. No one is without a fault. The siblings confront one another to revive their issues without noticing that they merely add fuel to the fire.

It is never difficult to connect to the characters, what more with this scale of ensemble. They are played by good actors who are moreso refined in the industry. We have the ever-reliable Cherie Gil, Jaime Fabregas, the power-hungry Ricky Davao, Tetchie Agbayani, and yes how we miss the late Mark Gil. Then comes the youngest child, played by Epi Quizon, flowing in youth, who first appeared with a rainbow on his background. He is the last to arrive in what seems to be a reunion among the immediate family of the bed-ridden Doña.

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Every mention of the place Negros gives out that sensation that we are transported to the province. Piece by piece, there are hints planted to tease what is bound to happen. The swing of the pendulum, the writings on the wall, the faint whispers, the dog and the baboy ramo, as well as the apparitions—all culminating to a larger terror. Cut to short scenes with a group of women in black veil, they light candles and they say their prayers.

We get to choose how we hope the story would progress and what the “mana” or inheritance is all about. We also had the chance to root for our favorite character.

Things get scarier towards the end upon the revelation on what actually has to be inherited. All in all, Mana is as eerie as it wants to be thanks to its well-structured narrative that is somehow embossed from a regionalistic lens. We get to ask ourselves, is this tradition real? Are we ready to face this side of reality when in fact we have been hearing this layer of aswang stories since forever?

Another day would come and people would—one way or another—move forward for a new generation of aswangs—real or not.

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