Visually Gorgeous & Clever: Thoughts on Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B

Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B is a romantic gore independent film directed by Prime Cruz and written by Jen Chuaunsu. The film is one of the entries at the 2016 QCinema International Film Festival where they bagged two awards – Best Director and Best Supporting Actress. After the festival, the film had its commercial release on August 2017 during the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. And that is where I got the chance to watch it.

Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B
Directed by: Prime Cruz
Written by: Jen Chuaunsu

Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B is about a lonely woman with dark secrets who falls for a broken-hearted guy amidst mysterious murders in Cubao.

Before sharing my thoughts on the film, let’s first tackle the fascinating creature that Filipinos love. The manananggal is an ordinary human female by day. When the moon rises, she performs a ritual which involves rubbing a certain type of oil on her waist and transforming her into a vicious, half-bodied monster with huge bat-like wings!

Yes, you read that right.

After the ritual, this creature of Philippine mythology and folklore would leave her lower body hidden in the bushes till dawn while her upper body flies off to search for food. They usually prey on pregnant women by sucking the unborn infant from the womb but eating human heart is also on their list.

Now let’s talk about Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B.

But when Jewel met and befriends her neighbor Nico (Martin del Rosario) and his grandmother (Vangie Labalan), we start to see more about her as a person. Plus based on the jokes she makes about her life and her actions, we can validate that she is indeed holding onto her humanity.

“Wala akong boyfriend kasi wala namang nagmamahal sa ‘kin e. Masama akong tao, hindi mo lang alam.” — Jewel, Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B

Honestly, I think this is the most “human” manananggal I have ever encountered in Philippine cinema. Yes, she still does the ritual I mentioned earlier as well as eat human hearts. But this creature is usually portrayed as mysterious and they don’t try to hide that making them easy to be identified.

Despite that, I am not mad about this film’s version as they made the character a bit more intriguing. It didn’t even bother me that there was no explanation as to how Jewel became a manananggal. The audience just accepted it because the story and her character was very well put together. Besides, the film isn’t really horror but more on romance.

It is also worth mentioning that there were some social commentaries cleverly inserted in the film. To hide the manananggal’s feeding activity, Jewel places a sign on her victim’s saying, “Huwag tularan Pusher ako” which is very timely.

Moreover, Jewel’s transformation from human to monster is visually gorgeous. I must say, Ryza Cenon did a superb job. Since her GMA StarStruck days where she is the Ultimate Survivor of the shows second season, Cenon has grown so much as an actor. Have you seen her in GMA Network’s Ika-6 Na Utos? She is great there as well.

If there’s another festival or it will be shown on TV, make sure you catch Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B. You’ll enjoy their refreshing take on this creature of Philippine mythology and folklore. 8/10 IMDb

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