In his last film I watched, Adolfo Alix Jr used the story of a couple trying to leave their criminal past behind in order to criticize Duterte’s policies around drugs. Continuing this tactic, this time he used the folklore legend of the Aswang in order to criticize colonialism and particularly the practices of the clergy during the era.
After an impressive intro of a man yelling in the forest and an animation somewhat explaining the concept of the Aswang and the significance of the forest, we witness a woman raped and dragged into the forest by a man doing the bidding of a priest. The woman dies but manages to give birth to a girl thanks to the appearance of forest creatures, most of which resemble women but act more like beasts. The girl grows up and eventually experiences love in the hands of a man related to the man who had taken her mother to the woods. When she is betrayed though, revenge takes a rather monstrous shape, both metaphorically and literally.
Alix’s approach to his theme is rather unusual, since the initial, evident comments about the mistreatment of the Spanish colonial rule and particularly the practices of the clergy and the aristocracy are soon placed in the background, as the film takes a ritualistic, folkloric/supernatural form. However, the relationship between the woman in the woods and the man, who happens to have another woman waiting for him at home, could be perceived as a metaphor for the way the colonialists dealt with the locals. First, they wooed them, then they exploited them and in the end, they abandoned and even became violent when the latter tried to establish some sort of permanent connection. The revenge that takes up the last part seems like an attempt to vindicate the then sentiments of the Filipinos, and perhaps can be perceived as a metaphor for Katipunan, an anti-colonial secret organization whose discovery by the Spanish authorities is considered the beginning of the Philippine Revolution.
In general though, it is the ritualistic and naturalistic elements that take over, as the most significant part of the film takes place in the forest during the night, where various supernatural creatures much resembling women roam around experiencing a number of emotions that seem to have a connection with their “enemies'” actions. This tactic is heightened even more by the atmospheric, outwordly music of Radha, which induces the movie with the aforementioned elements, at least as much as the cinematography, which portrays the forest as a truly mystical place.
This sense is also placed in the background during the final sequence, when the rather violent and grotesque transformation of the woman turns the film into a genuine, bloody horror, although the style of music remains even in this part. This last sequence is probably the most impressive in the movie, with the “interaction” between the Aswang and the man reminding me much of Ripley and her alien offspring in “Alien Resurrection”, although, obviously, in a whole different concept.
The acting is somewhat put in the background in favor of the atmosphere, although the female cast had rather difficult parts, in essence acting as beasts instead of human, and are convincing in their parts.
“Mystery of the Night” is definitely an interesting film, which occasionally takes its narrative approach and the overall atmosphere a step too far, although not to a point that faults its overall quality. Fans of horror films will definitely enjoy this one, particularly the last part.