Pinoy horror as social commentary

Family members of Oplan Tokhang victims stage a symbolic protest to demand justice from the government. (Photo screengrabbed from ‘Aswang’ free movie screening.)
Filmmakers have opted to use the horror and thriller genres to make us confront the social ills and fears.


Come Halloween and Undas, one of the things we do is to watch horror films. As if we are not already scared of unpaid overdue bills, unemployment and the umpteenth time politicians commit blunders as they plunder.

Then there is the Pinoy horror film, the genre that either spooks you or make your eyes roll with familiar spooks of haunted houses, wandering spirits, folklore and cursed objects. It’s just escapist entertainment.

But there’s one rising trend nowadays in horror and thrillers in that it carries with social commentaries. Given how discussing social issues has been giving us fears of red-tagging and online bashing, filmmakers have opted to use the horror and thriller genres to make us confront the social ills and fears.

Here are few movies and series that are doing such feat.


Released 2018. Director: Benedict Mique
Awards: Cinemalaya 2018 for Best Editing; Star Awards 2019 for Best Indie Movie Sound Engineering; Best Actor for Eddie Garcia by Cinemalaya 2018, FAMAS 2019 and Gawad Urian 2019.
Available on YouTube

When Carlo questions the narrative of Martial Law of Marcos being taught in class, his teacher gives them an assignment: find someone who experienced ML and get an interview. Carlo thought he found the right subject, a retired Metrocom chief who is called ‘Colonel’ in his neighborhood. What he thought was the ideal interview that would debunk his teacher becomes a nightmare instead. The colonel, with signs of dementia, believes Carlos is a student activist and proceeds to torture him in his basement. The torture even extends to Carlo’s best pal and his girlfriend who were tricked by the colonel to come to the house.

There is so much torture scenes in this movie — a toenail being pulled, water poured over the head, cigarette burning through skin, foreign objects inserted into genitals and the Russian roulette. Perhaps these scenes convey the excesses of abuse, the horror when one becomes its victim by mistake, by suspicion or by decree.

A line gets repeated here is that Martial Law was ‘necessary’ to stop ‘communists’, first spoken by Carlo and later by the colonel. Carlo chews out this line as information he gets from what he reads. The colonel on the other speaks it as if it is his mantra. That line draws different impact depending on who and how it is said.

The movie tends to be blunt with its message about Martial Law, and it leaves out a clear resolution on the victims on their trauma. But that is perhaps the motive of the film — the pain of ML will scar those who live through its dark horrors.

Midnight In a Perfect World

Released 2020. Director : Dodo Dayao
Awards: Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Special Mention, Gawad Urian 2021 for Best Sound

A mystery engulfs the city where people disappear at night. Four friends ponder on this mystery they call “god’s blackout”, and find out there are safehouses to run into during this instance. But when they encounter this blackout one night, they discover safehouses are not what they think. The characters become trapped between the city’s darkness and a house that oozes eeriness behind locked doors and holes.

The elements of disappearances and safehouses in the film are linked to Martial Law and political repression that continues to this day. Safehouses in real life are places where activists are detained incommunicado, get tortured and at worse, get snuffed out. Perhaps the eerie elements in the safehouses depict the spirits of the dead, or the monsters that commit such torture.

The film is quite ambiguous though. Did the characters survive the blackout? What are these creatures that creep up in the dark? Are they ghosts, aliens or otherworldly beings? Maybe the ambiguity depicts the disconnect in our generation, where the youth are caught with problems from family to drugs, unaware of the social problems that wrap the society in the dark.


Released 2021
TV series on Netflix

The popular adaptation of the popular Filipino manga links the country’s underworld of corruption and crime to folklore creatures. Combining detective work with supernatural elements, the series introduces the malevolent creatures from our folklore to a broader young audience, and shows what better way for malevolent creatures to destroy our community but to connive with corrupt politicians and cops.


Released 2019. Director : Alyx Ayn Arumpac
14 Awards including Best Picture from FAMAS, Gawad Urian; Best documentary in various international film festivals

While government spins the narrative of a successful war on drugs in social media, this documentary takes a sympathetic look on its effects on its victims, people living in squalid communities in Manila. The urban poor talk of aswangs, folkloric creatures that prey at night. But in their communities, the aswang are the police conducting ‘tokhang’ operations in their alleys and streets, spilling blood on pavement and homes as they shoot down people they label as drug suspects who resist arrest (the ‘nanlaban’ excuse).

The documentary offers a human face to the victims, drug users and witnesses of this bloody campaign. The most moving narrative comes from a boy, who hides as his mother has been arrested for drug use, and his friend, Kian, was wrongly killed. The most horrifying part is the discovery of a secret cell behind a book cabinet of a police station where more than ten people were kept cramped in the dark without charges.

This documentary shows real life horror that the poor face day-by-day. Surviving poverty and a government that preys on them. But Aswang offers a glimpse of humanity on the poor who strive to survive brutal wars. (RVO) (

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