Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Stylistically it's all over the place, combining elements of action movie, mockumentary, feminist polemic, history lesson and romance, but it has a freshness and energy that will delight genre fans."

There are well over a hundred different types of vampire in folklore worldwide, so how come almost all the ones we see in films have pointy teeth, suck blood from their victims' throats, run away from garlic and crosses, avoid the sunshine and wear black all the time? Vampariah is an interesting take on a different kind of myth, that of the Filipino aswang. Stylistically it's all over the place, combining elements of action movie, mockumentary, feminist polemic, history lesson and romance, but it has a freshness and energy that will delight genre fans.

Kelly Lou Dennis is Mahal. She's a familiar character - a dedicated vampire hunter who works for a clandestine agency in which everybody has martial arts training, packs special weapons and, well, wears black all the time. All her life she has wanted to hunt an aswang because she blames them for the death of her parents. But when she finally gets the chance, she finds that the aswang in question has some unexpected news for her. Has her agency known the secret all along? Why has it been manipulating her? And can she make the psychological adjustment necessary do what she has to do?

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On the surface this is just so much cheese, but underneath there's a lot being said about cultural imperialism, the immigrant experience and the devaluing of women's concerns in modern Western society. The aswang, Bampinay (Aureen Almario), explains the traditional role of her kind in safely aborting unwanted pregnancies, and assures Mahal that ethical feeding is not a problem when there are so many men out there who deserve to die. She has a particular fondness for sucking out the guts of white men who fantasise about sexually exploiting Asian women, and she also hints at the other things the famous elongated aswang tongue can do.

It's difficult to think of a vampire romance that isn't creepy on some level. Bampinay is not only centuries older than Mahal but actually remembers her as a child. Despite Mahal being confused and disorientated by her sudden change of circumstances, she doesn't hesitate to seduce her. Any ethical concerns that might arise from this are swept under the carpet despite the focus on ethics elsewhere. Though the two have chemistry, there's little explicit sexual or romantic interaction; the story moves at a rapid pace so there simply wouldn't be time.

Among the more appealing aspects of the film is the chance to see the aswang pulling off the traditional trick of splitting its body in two to take flight; likewise to see a jiangshi, treated with some affection, able to move only by hopping and paralysed when a Taoist script is attached to its head. There are far too many things going on for one film, they're not drawn together very well and somehow we still manage to end up with an under-lit fistfight in a warehouse, but this is a bold little movie with a lot of personality. It bites off much more than it can chew but deserves credit for doing something different and for the verve with which it goes about that.

Reviewed on: 20 Nov 2017
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A member of an elite squad of skilled hunters responsible for keeping the world safe from vampires finds her fate unexpectedly entwined with that of an aswang.

Director: Matthew Abaya

Writer: Matthew Abaya, Lawrence Yaghmour

Starring: Aureen Almario, Alex Benjamin, I-Li Chang Brice, Kelly Lou Dennis, Arlene Joie Deleon

Year: 2016

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Philippines, US


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