This is not the folklore TV drama we used to watch back then—but if you thought this mythical concept was long gone, Prime Cruz presents a millennial take on the classic manananggal. And for sure, our lolas won’t like this one.
The film branches out into two stories: the lonely existence of a mysterious woman Jewel (Ryza Cenon) and her newly-found love story with the boy-next-door Nico (Martin del Rosario). Props ought to be given to Ryza’s acting as Jewel’s painful struggle as she severs from her lower body is gut-wrenching. As a side note, Jewel is extremely different in this film to the point that you’ll never see Ryza as the toy gun meme from a teleserye ever again.
By explicitly showing the sexual manifestation of a woman turned monster, Cruz aims to elevate the sensual undercurrent. And it’s quite eccentric because most never thought a manananggal could be this sexy. Apart from that, what makes the film simple yet appealing is its focus on giving a linear (although typical) storyline rather than having complicating concepts that can dilute its entirety. However, its simplicity is a double-edged sword as it fails to give profundity to deep themes. Supernatural girl meets normal guy, romance ensues—it’s a typical Filipino drama story dressed in satisfying visuals. Even the metaphoric upshot of the country’s pressing issue on extrajudicial killings adds no solid stand—just drama.
Cruz also incorporates the artistic formula of indie films when it comes to its fine cinematography, consistent lighting, and befitting color grading. The CGI is the most notable part of the film, unveiling stunning graphics we don’t usually expect in the local scene. Apart from the visual feast, the musical scoring also gives a youthful and rousing vibe, like Taken by Cars’ indie rock songs—although Reese Lansangan’s indie pop style doesn’t perfectly fit the strong image the film tries to achieve.
Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B has a good start, giving us all that kilig and thrilling feeling, but it drastically veers to being too cheesy towards the end. At least it offers a delight of night-time aesthetics matched with the neon red and green lights that everyone’s down for these days. So yes, this might just be your favorite cliché.