Films, Horror, Philippines, Recommended posts, Reviews


4.5 starsPhilippines 2014. Directed by Dodo Dayao. Starring RK Bagatsing, Andy Bais, Anthony Falcon, Joel Lamangan, Timothy Mabalot, Victor Neri. 115 Mins. In Tagalog with English subtitles. 3 Comments

An impressively designed mood piece that reveals its narrative depth only with repeated viewings…

Two distinct scenes flickered at the back of my mind during the screening of Dodo Dayao’s gorgeously hair-rising Violator. Scene one. Many of the participants and onlookers gathering at the crucifixion site just fifty kilometres away from the capital city of Manila are wealthy, or at least middle-class Filipinos: a student of computer science was one of the participants in 1996-98. These rituals are not only punishment rites – they also aid in the cause of ‘spirit mediumship’, a mingling of shamanism and Christianity, a clash of the spirits. Scene two. Assaulted by some twenty typhoons a year, the Philippines developed its own mythology around the unstoppable walls of rain and thunder. Abandoned by its inhabitants who often flee in the search of shelter, the deserted ghost cities welcome the typhoons along with the evil that they carry, preparing themselves for a flood of bodies that inevitably emerges when the water drops. An Apocalypse that arrives in turns, quietly, and on schedule.

With frightening subtlety, Violator charts one such Apocalypse, braiding cult rites and suicides with the Devil, adding in the banality of nefarious acts to the mix. The Apocalypse is coming, drawn by a large typhoon and sins of common men. All around Manila, fragile bodies ripple with evil: two dustmen self-immolate in the forest, a child whose eyes don’t seem quite right stares right at you, a doomsday cult orchestrates a collective suicide of its members. In sharp contrast to most horror films, Violator almost overestimates its audience, leaving little trace of a coherent narrative well until the second half of the film, forcing a heightened intellectual engagement prior to an emotional one. The confusing first half, a mosaic of seemingly unconnected scenes, ripens into meaning only if watched retrospectively as a prelude to the latter narrative part. Eventually, five men stranded at a remote police station emerge as the film’s main characters. Some of them are policemen, whom we have previously watched drunkenly execute a criminal. We know little about them (in fact, it might take some time to figure out who they are at all) until one of them brings in a prisoner – a teenage boy who assaulted a group of homeless men. “He has the Devil inside of him,” they claimed. Curiously, our heroes’ conversations are frustratingly hermeneutic until the boy arrives – it is only in the presence of the Devil that they begin to reveal their own demons, thus letting us peek into their psyche.

Violator is primarily an impressively designed mood piece that reveals its narrative depth only with repeated viewings. Claustrophobic, and too intimate for comfort, Filipino blogger and film critic’s debut is a new turn in Southeast Asian horror, influenced rather by the formally adventurous avant-garde of contemporary film festival darlings than ghost folklore fuelling many local productions. Having no regard for mainstream fright tricks, it’s a ticking dread-bomb that scares gradually as we slowly solve its riddles. Juggling various genres and formats – from a post-apocalyptic suicide scene among towering skyscrapers, to a found-footage cult suicide, Dayao takes us on a roller coaster of eeriness, layering one sin over another until the wall finally crumbles. Formally controlled and tightly scripted, it prefers to slowly scale up dread rather than assault with jump scares. Imagine walking through an empty house in the middle of the night, frightened and continuously looking over your shoulder – loving the sound of this? Then Violator is for you.

Violator screens as part of the London East Asia Film Festival 2015.

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Bogna KoniorBogna Konior Bogna Konior
Currently working toward a PhD on Southeast Asian cinema, politics, and philosophy in Hong Kong.
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3 thoughts on “Violator

  1. Khiry Anthony says:

    I saw the movie (at the NYAFF a few hours ago).

    When you watch this movie everything about it screams a “stupid flop” with a very all over the place script and insanely abrupt ending with little to no horror moments. Thus ultimately leaving you disappointed and/or walking out (like some did).

    This is not a jump scare movie. It’s not a gruesome torture film. I think it is a film the director (and writer, writers deserve credit too) wanted to have replay value. The problem with that is the first viewing of the movie can completely disconnect you from thinking of this movie ever again more so if you watch it by yourself.

    However after you watch the movie and discuss it with friends.. etc… the movie seems to unfold. You start to question who was real? What was this scene really about? What was the point of this conversation? Why did they show us this? Who was that?

    That said I would not recommend anyone buying this movie (unless extremely cheap). This should never be on a must watch list. If you do watch it, I recommend watching it again and if you watch this with headphones on please turn your sound down for you will go deaf. Also, there are long periods of time where there is absolutely no sound whatsoever.

    I’m am not really sure why or how this made it to NYAFF nor why it was the closing movie.

  2. Andrew Heskins says:

    Hi Khiry, thanks for your thoughts on the film. It’s vital for us to get different points of view on the film. Any film that prompts discussion afterwards is always a good thing, whether you ultimately like the film or not.

    Just to clarify though, it’s not the closing film of the NYAFF, just the last of the screenings at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Don’t forget to catch further screenings at the SVA Theatre.

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