Richard reviews Sigaw (Echo)

Sigaw.jpgI didn’t know what to expect from this movie, having never visited Philippine Cinema before I had no real frame of reference. So a response to a post on the Movie Blog from the Director of Sigaw, Yam Laranas, was a welcome surprise.

I had heard that this movie carried similar themes to Asian Horror, and indeed that Philippine horror took references from the Far East, and that a number of people who had seen this movie recommended it quite strongly.

During the opening scenes I felt on familiar territory. The dark, decrepit apartment block provided plenty of claustrophobia and paranoia and had already set me at unease before the titles had even finished.

The story is a strong and very visual one, and at times does seem to borrow from Asian horror, a fact that Laranas disputes in the audio commentary, but it never feels wrong. The characters are quite identifiable, even from such a different culture, and the actors are surprisingly good. They have their moments though, and the beautiful Angel Locsinplays a few moments awkwardly, while Richard Gutierrez has a few lines where his dialogue feels wrong for his character, but in foreign movies this can often be due to the subtitles. The other two male leads Jomari Yllana and James Blanco provide very convincing performances, and as for Iza Calzado, well she has some truly terrifying moments.

Calzado and Blanco manage to give such a believable performance as the abused wife and abusing husband respectively. This is done with suggestion and intent, and no actual violence. It’s the looks in their faces and their utterly convincing tone that captures this, and I suspect that many will find these scenes very uncomfortable without them actually having any violence. This shows the strength of the script and Director.

By far the creepiest moments are with the child . When the apartment door opens without warning it’s enough to scare you, but when the child runs in and hides under the bed, and with a blood red face, I admit Laranas had me freaked out. This feeling is reinforced when it occurs again and there is no child, just the camera hinting at the movements of someone. An excellent method of building unease in the audience.

Laranas knows the tricks of the trade when it comes to horror, the scares, screams and tension building is done very well, and even without the child moments there are some very scary moments…The scenes in the cinema and the toilet cubicle are superbly filmed. There’s great use of the camera throughout, and the understanding that less actually more and subtlety is a wonderful trait.

The cinematography and sound are very strong aspects of the movie, perhaps the strongest, and there are some superbly visualised and filmed scenes. The sound effects and score are very complimentary to the movie and provide for excellent tension building.

However all is not great, there is a short section of the film where the characters leave the confines of the buildings that they inhabit, both home and work, and this feels slightly out of place in the movie. Suddenly the world is opened up and it feels as though they could just leave and the tension is temporarily halted. As soon as they return to the confines of the apartment though, the tension returns and builds back.

The story builds to good climax, where you genuinely are unsure what’s about to happen. Indeed I wasn’t sure as the final scenes played out, and I was quite surprised at the ending.

Presented: 1.85:1
Unfortunately this is the failing of the DVD. The picture is extremely harsh in white balance, bright areas very over exposed and at times far too bright, with dark areas being very dark, but not overly. It gives a good feeling for most of the movie but there are some scenes where it’s very distracting.

At first I thought this was down to the style of filming, and I found it was starting to annoy me more and more, however when I watched the trailers in the Extras afterwards I discovered that it wasn’t the filming, it was the picture on the DVD. Since then I’ve read another review that says this very same thing. The picture on the DVD heavily let’s the movie down, and that’s indeed a shame.

Presented: English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0
Subtitles: English

The sound is one of the strongest features in this movie, with a good use made of the DD5.1 available to it. Effects happen around the scene, and it’s not overly used so you’re hearing sounds all around you, but it is used enough to provide depth to the scenes.

The score stands out and is a major contribution to the tension of the movie. It’s very haunting and keeps itself in the background, slowly building and gently tapping at your shoulder. During key scenes it provides the weight to let you know the seriousness of the moment, but it never overpowers the movie.

Presented: Audio Commentary, Behind the Scenes Featurette and Trailers
Laranas is perhaps being one of the most mellow Directors I’ve ever heard. However he provides some good insight to the movie, the actors and some of the problems they faced. I actually found I enjoyed watching the movie a second time with his commentary, and it felt like it added more to the experience. Perhaps the addition of the Writer, Film or Sound Editor would have strengthened the offering here.

The Behind the Scenes Featurette provides direct footage of some of the scenes being filmed, but with no commentary or understanding it’s merely showing you scenes that are retaken a few times. What it does show is the feeling on set, and how surprisingly relaxed it is. Otherwise this seems like footage that was just dropped on the DVD.

I was slightly disappointed that the trailers didn’t carry subtitles, but I watched them anyway to get an understanding of other aspects of Philippine cinema. There are a number of trailers for other movies alongside all the trailers for Sigaw, and it is here that you see the picture was not filmed with this harsh contrast.

This is a simple, and very effective story made so by excellent film making techniques in editing, cinemtography and sound. This combination is what makes the movie effective in tension building and scare delivery. It’s almost a traditional horror, a scary movie without the slasher and special effects that have been employed in the modern horror film.

The acting is strong, and provided a surprise for me in the quality of talent available to the Philippines. There are some weak moments, but nothing that distracts from the story which is kept going at an ever increasing pace.

The DVD certainly does let down the movie, the contrast can provide some overpowering light in some key scenes and this is nowhere to be seen in the trailers themselves. So although the film is very good, it’s the DVD quality that should make this deserve a lower score.

None the less, this is a scary movie with some excellently filmed moments and superb soundtrack that will keep you tense and jumpy. A very enjoyable horror showing subtlety over slashing.

Official site
IMDB UK movie details
My voting history on UK IMDB

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