Uncomfortable, unprecedented and painfully subversive
By now you should know that there’s a little (but long) movie by the name of Ang Panahon Ng Halimaw (known outside the Philippines as Season of The Devil) from one Lav Diaz. By now should know that it’s a black and white musical, that it’s set in Martial Law, that it’s four hours long and that it’s beloved by critics the world over.
No joke, it currently has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
And if you didn’t know any of these things, then you do now.
But beyond praises from the West and the film’s obvious novelty, where does Diaz’s latest experiment really fit in? Let’s break the movie down.
It’s a story that hits (too) close to home
Ang Panahon Ng Halimaw is set in the late 70s, at the height of Marcos’ Martial Law. In a provincial village, a military-controlled gang terrorizes citizens both physically and psychologically. Everyone is fed doubtful stories of their leader and one man’s wife never makes it home.
On the surface, it’s a love story that just so happens to be set in what is arguably the darkest decade in Philippine history. You see what a husband is willing to go through to learn what happened to the woman he loves. You see his struggle, you see his dedication and you wish her hope. But what is a Lav Diaz movie if not something that forces its audience to look deeper into its roots?
You think you know our history—all its good and all its bad—but having lived in it is a different thing altogether. Political views aside, you never know what you’re talking about until you’re there. Well, Ang Panahon Ng Halimaw puts you squarely in the dictatorship.
We’re used to musicals being colorful, loud and relatively happy. Something along the lines of The Greatest Showman, Hairspray and Mama Mia—the kind of musicals whose soundtracks you can play on loop. But Ang Panahon Ng Halimaw is nothing like that; there will be no official Spotify playlist from the film.
The already depressing premise of the movie is made drearier by the slow tempo of the songs and their melancholy delivery. Because of this, its audience is left a little uncomfortable and itchy for the next scene. You know, almost like you’re actually in there.
What’s creepy, though, is that villains and protagonists all sing in the same melody-less melody. Close your eyes and you might just mistake one for the other.
It’s fucking painful
The abuse, the hopelessness and the mind games are unavoidable. But what makes Ang Panahon Ng Halimaw even more painful to watch is the swagger with which the militia walk; it’s in how a mother mourns the unjustified death of her son.
But if you’re looking for something more in-your-face, then maybe the face of Marcos stitched to the back of someone else’s head will scare you into your seat.
This shouldn’t be explained. It needs to be experienced.
It comes from the heart
Whether or not you share the same views as Diaz and the rest of the production team, there is no denying that this film is a real cri de coeur—a passionate protest. It’s almost as if each millisecond was carefully considered, each scene was carefully edited in and each word was chosen with utmost criticism.
These said, Ang Panahon Ng Halimaw is not without its faults. Its length is probably the biggest weight it to carry, but even this 4-hour running time has its reason. You want out? You’ll have to see it—everything—through to the end.
Sit yourself down and catch Ang Panahon Ng Halimaw while you can. It’s showing in Glorietta 4, Trinoma, Market Market, Fairview Terraces, Ayala Malls Cloverleaf, Alabang Town Center and Ayala Center Cebu.
Art Alexandra Lara