Friday, January 5, 2024

Mallari

♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

1812. Doña Facunda Mallari (Gloria Diaz) arrives in Pampanga to accompany her son Juan Severino (Piolo Pascual) who will soon be ordained as that parish’s priest. They are welcomed by Maria Capac (Ge Villamil) who will be instrumental in the mother-and-son’s descent to madness. 1940. Photojournalist Johnrey Mallari (Piolo Pascual) meets an older Maria Capac (Vangie Labalan) and her assistant Conching (April Sangco) as he moves into the ancestral home. He finds out that he can time travel via astral projection to the past and future, observing the older Mallari in 1812 and meeting a boy from the future who is his descendant. 2023. Doctor Jonathan Mallari de Dios (Piolo Pascual) heads back to their ancestral house accompanied by Brother Lucas Alarcon Segundo (JC Santos) in search for answers as he is persistently hounded by a nightmare involving his fiancé Agnes’ (Janella Salvador) death.

Bro, there’s a manananggal, bro. But even before her upper body detaches from the lower half, we are already warned that this narrative will be taking us for a ride as a plot device for time travel is introduced early on. Blame me for not watching the trailer and expecting that this would simply be a period slasher flick. Mallari is more speculative fiction than historical biography. The sole link this film has to the actual serial killer Severino Mallari who murdered 57 people during the Spanish colonial period is his name and the anecdote that he killed all of them to find a cure for his “cursed” mother. The rest? Artistic license. Wild creative license.

This is perhaps due to the rumors that the producers were refused access by Spain to their archives. Common knowledge about Mallari the serial killer is quite limited. Crafting an entire story from that bit of info that is more hearsay than fact can only get a scriptwriter so far. Even then, a psychological thriller could have been another path taken. After all, aren’t stories like this just primarily rooted in issues of mental health? It would’ve been enlightening to see how this societal taboo was handled back in the day. Maybe we can instead expect that of the Mallari TV series that Dennis Trillo will be headlining soon.

As for the acting, they have quite the ensemble here with Santos, Salvador, and Diaz in scene-stealing supporting roles. Pascual, on the other hand, was probably the early favorite to win Best Actor if not for GomBurZa’s Cedrick Juan, who is also equally deserving, suddenly snatching it from him come awards night. Playing four different roles is hard. While Pascual’s portrayal of those four is far from perfect, he does carry the film on his shoulders, which makes you believe that the producers who gave in to his rumored absurd demand for a talent fee must feel so vindicated right now.

Curses and superstitions are part of culture alright, and seeing them showcased on the big screen is fun now that most of us have moved on from this as a society. Seeing the Warner Brothers logo during the OBB also shows how that film outfit must have believed in this material so much as to decide to take care of its distribution worldwide. With an alleged budget of 80 million pesos, this is the film to beat in this film festival as far as production values are concerned. We just wish that they could have polished the special effects more. That manananggal reveal could’ve been epic instead of odd and laughable, you know.

Was Mallari weird? Yes. Was I amused? Hell yes. Did the Filipino audience enjoy it? I suppose so. After all, this film is always mentioned along with Rewind as one of the two most watched films among the ten Metro Manila Film Festival entries this year each time a box office update surfaces. The real winner? Enrico Santos. Who the hell is he? He is the screenwriter for both Mallari and Rewind. I guess it’s safe to say that Mr. Santos has caught the fancy of the Filipino movie going public with two of his works dominating the same film festival. Does he offer workshops? I’d like a peek into that weirdly creative writer’s mind of his.


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