culture by Philbert Dy

‘Hiwaga: Ang Paglalakbay sa Liwanag ng Buhay’ is Deeply Puzzling

It makes one wonder: “how does a movie like this get made?”

NBHD movie 0-2 half ticketHiwaga: Ang Paglalakbay sa Liwanag ng Buhay opens on three forest spirits granting a blessing to faith healer Sabel (Donna Oradina). She lives a simple but idyllic life in the middle of the wilderness with her four children, offering up mystical healing services for anyone who asks for her aid. But Sabel’s travails are only prologue to this story. Sabel dies, and her kids are sent off to an orphanage. They end up being separated, and the movie jumps to ten years later. Sabel’s only boy John (John MC Earl Estrada) is a graduating high school senior, and he returns to the woods of his childhood with a couple of friends, and he ends up helping some girls who get lost in the wilderness.

At this point, we are more than halfway into this movie, and there is still very little indication of what this story is really all about. After that side trip into the forest, where we once again see the forest spirits from the beginning of the movie, we see John at his high school graduation. There is a hint of a romantic subplot that doesn’t amount to anything. And then, in the last stretch of the movie, it becomes about John and his siblings reuniting, though this doesn’t actually involve any narrative effort from the characters.Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 11.14.40 PMIt’s all really quite puzzling. It is a movie that is impossible to spoil, because it doesn’t actually have a fully constructed narrative. It starts off making it seem like Sabel was the main character. And then when we get to the orphanage, the film starts a hint of a plot with some bullies and some weird possessions. But then it drops that and just jumps ahead a decade. It introduces a whole slew of new characters. The film treats them like they’ve been there all along, and expects the audience to care about their ultimate fate. This all becomes a pretty subpar horror movie, before dropping that as well and going for generic, faux-sentimental pabulum.

It doesn’t really seem to be designed to tell a coherent story. It could be noted that this whole project seems to be tied to a talent management firm. It could explain why the movie is filled with sequences that have a multitude of unnamed young characters. It could explain why there are so many scenes where the kids are called on to cry. It might also explain why it has the main characters singing so often. It’s all part of showing off what these talents can do.Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 11.15.35 PMIt’s all pretty cringeworthy. One can certainly pick out the sincerity in this film, but that doesn’t really translate into anything watchable. Even if we are to take this movie as nothing more than catalog of young talents, it ends up being a poor showcase for everyone involved. Putting aside the completely abysmal dialogue that does none of these kids any favors, the direction is so shoddy that nobody comes off well at all. Really poor production values drive things down even further.  Perhaps some of these kids are really great. You wouldn’t be able to tell from watching this movie.

And so, Hiwaga will likely leave audiences with a lot of questions. Not about the plot, though; that’s all clear enough. The questions will be more like “how did this get made?” Or, “why is this showing in cinemas?” Or perhaps, “why does the director of this film credit himself as ‘Sir RCA?’” It’s all really quite strange and kind of difficult to watch. These kids are pretty earnest, and it can be a real struggle to see them come off so badly on screen. But this movie, or whatever it’s supposed to be, just doesn’t serve as a good platform for these aspiring young talents.

HIWAGA: ANG PAGLALAKBAY SA LIWANAG NG BUHAY IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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