Spoilers might take human form.
Folklore horror is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I feel it sometimes becomes too focused on being a period piece and forgets to put enough horror to make it entertaining. The best way it works for me is when the lore actually matches curse with punishment, and this is what “Mystery of the Night” does best. It does take its sweet time getting there, so expect a slow burn. I do have my problems with what it decides to fill the time with until we get to the scary part, but it’s a decent payoff.
Mystery of the Night is directed by Adolfo Borinaga Alix, jr. The story is adapted from Rody VERA’s play “Ang Unang Aswang”. It’s a warning folk tale about scorned women, infidelity and the abuse of power. The film starts by framing its story in the power struggle of the Philippines’ colonies of the 1900’s. The local governor and the priest are in cahoots to get rid of a pregnant woman that may have been impregnated by the priest and has become an unsightly annoyance around town. The governor takes her into the haunted forest and abandons her to die. The spirits of the forest, female creatures of local lore, rescue her offspring and raise the child to full womanhood.
Several years later, the governor’s son, Domingo (Benjamin Alves) runs into the woman (Solenn Heusaff) and they end up making love – although the way it happens is uncomfortable and rapey to be honest. Of course Domingo has a wife he’s left at home so this love is inconvenient. When he returns to civilization, he’s trying to return back to normal life. That is not to be, as eventually the woman tracks him down. Nothing encapsulates the male privilege of the era as Domingo dragging a naked woman on the street and have another man approach and ask if the woman was bothering him.
The folklore story does prepare the ground for the inevitable backlash that is going to happen to Domingo and his household. However, the acting seems to have come straight from the play. Every character we meet literally adds exposition to their lines so we know who they are. Ancillary characters we overhear narrate what is happening on the scene they’re in. Fortunately the spirits of the forest limit themselves to animal noises and chanting. When the Aswang appears on screen the practical effects require some suspension of disbelief, so it was good that we slow burn our way to the reveal. It might not be the same experience for everyone though.
Recommended for fans of folklore and horror with some reservations. With its theatre-style exposition-heavy dialog and the practical effects being serviceable at their best, it might not work for casual audiences. During the screening I was attending, a portion of the audience reacted with laughter at some of the scenes. Whether that was warranted or not, I’d rather not say. As all fairy tales, this one comes with a warning. If you screw with forest spirits, they might give birth to monsters.
That will do for now.