By Nonoy L. Lauzon
Transgressing norms, mores, and the mindset of conventional society may be deemed the mark of a good film. When a film – that is a huge hit among vast viewing audiences – resorts to such transgression, one knows that it must be doubly good. This is the case for the horror feature Pagpag that by all means subscribes to the requisites of the genre only to subvert one’s expectations of the limits of popular cinema.
What begins as a cautionary tale for the young that shun superstitious beliefs graduates to a far more foreboding treatise that poses a challenge to a way of life and view of the world on which much of social conventions to this day are founded.
In Pagpag, the real source of shock and the horror experience lies not in its elements as a slasher pic but in the very premise by which the diabolical in the film is evoked and unleashed. What drives humans to enact a pact with the Devil can after all be as seemingly innocuous as one’s heterosexual desire to perpetuate the human species and preserve one’s obsession with the nuclear family.
The film ridiculously appears to dramatize the sordid story of a couple compelled to go through lengths just to fulfill their dream of a complete social unit in the strict heterosexist sense. But it is on this account that the film departs from the usual path trodden by flicks of similar vein. It dares to be an allegory of a society that privileges the heterosexual paradigm and marginalizes what for it are all other deviant sexualities. In plain language, the film boldly posits that it is the heterosexual paradigm – and not its opposites and all else that runs counter or contrary to such — that can actually wreak much havoc for human and humane society.
Much people have been reared on the notion that procreation is the essence of human existence without being prodded to realize that this too can be the wellspring for unspeakable evil. How many crimes, acts of injustice, dastardly deeds of oppression and exploitation in the world have been committed in the name of the family ideal — of securing a future for one’s children’s children, of being a good husband to his dutiful wife, of being a loving father providing for his brood? The film in its own way claims that it must all be crap as it is precisely the foundation of the dangerous ideology that very well sows the seeds of stark horror.
Nonoy L. Lauzon is the cinema programmer of the UP Film Institute. He holds double degrees in Philosophy and Humanities from University of the Philippines Diliman. He had worked for national newspapers such as the Philippine Journal and Manila Times and previously written reviews and commentary through the years for a number of publications including Mirror Weekly, People’s Journal, Evening Paper, Real Pinoy, Saksi Ngayon.