An Aswang is a creature unique to Filipino folklore, a mythical beast that, over the past 400 years, has come to represent everything “vile, disgusting, and evil” in Philippine society.
The Aswang Phenomenon is an in-depth documentary written and directed by Jordan Clark that explores many facets of this legend.
Read my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: What would happen if a country of 97 million people were taught at a young age that the boogie man was real. In the Philippines for the last 400 years, the ‘aswang’ has been used as propaganda and social control by Spanish Colonizers, the Catholic Church, the Philippine Administration, and even the CIA.
Just about every culture has it’s own folklore, and just about all of them contain stories of monsters. And while the Aswang of the Philippines shares aspects of the European vampire, it is much more complicated manifestation. Indeed, the Aswang has no easily comparable relative anywhere.
What makes the Aswang so interesting is that belief in this creature still endures today among the majority of Filipinos. The fact that an objectively far-fetched entity holds this much sway speaks to how deeply this myth has been engrained into Philippine culture. I’m unable to think of another example of a mythical beast being connected to a specific geography or population–except perhaps the Loch Ness Monster. Yet even in Scotland, belief in “Nessie” is far from universal (and seems to wane further every decade). What makes the Aswang so powerful?
One of the interviewees puts it well when he says: “Too much belief in the supernatural makes us naïve, but too much reliance on science makes us arrogant.” In this respect, the Philippines is a nation that still holds fast to the ideas and beliefs of their ancestors.
Another extraordinary aspect of the Aswang is the diversity of forms it can take. It can be classified as a witch, a werewolf (shapeshifter), a vampire, a viscera-eater, or even a ghoul. It can look like an old woman, an old man, a pig, a dog, or even a bat. It sometimes manifests as a segmented creature that can separate at the torso; this same beast can suck blood through its tubular tongue. Truly, the Aswang encapsulates aspects of many Western supernatural beings.
The pervasiveness of the Aswang in the Philippines has everything to do with that country’s unique history. When the Spanish colonized the islands 400 years ago, religious leaders were eager to vilify the local pagan gods. This is not unlike the way European Christians began using existing pagan mythology to create a visual manifestation of the devil. Later, the Aswang myth was revitalized by oppressive government administrations as a way to keep locals confined to their remote villages. Female guerrilla freedom fighters, for example, were likened to the Aswang, which created a climate of distrust.
Clark is thorough in his examination of the Aswang offering many additional examples of the creature’s roll and evolution in Philippine society. His documentary, on the whole, is more educational than entertaining. The animated reimaginings created by Denver Jackson are captivating, but can’t liven up this meandering, exhaustive narrative. Clark must be commended, however, for coming up with several interesting theories regarding why the Aswang became synonymous to a specific region of the Philippines.
A good documentary can be as unsettling and disturbing as any Horror genre offering. And while The Aswang Phenomenon won’t have you jumping for the ceiling or shivering at the edge of your seat, it’s a great exploration of an obscure and complicated piece of mythology.
Anyone with an interest in the Pacific Islander culture or world folklore will want to give this unique offering a spin.
2.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.