Friday, February 6, 2015

The Best of Shake, Rattle & Roll: LRT

Shake, Rattle, & Roll VIII (2006)
Directed by Mike Tuviera

That a horror anthology series has been a long-running staple of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival has always been fascinating to me because, between commercials disguised as comedies and vehicle films for the latest love teams, the horror genre doesn't seem very large local market. But Shake, Rattle, & Roll has grown into an institution in Philippine horror. Not because it's consistently good, but because, like a zombie, it keeps coming back: There was a six-year gap between the first film, which premiered in 1984, and the sequel, and since then it's been on-and-off: Sometimes SRR films will come out one year after another, other times there'll be a few years in between. 

Moreso than your average anthology film, the quality of the SRR series are largely hit-and-miss. Considering these films only have three segments, you'd be lucky to find a good one in a single film. While one of the three segments in a SRR movie will usually be a horror-comedy, other times segments are unintentionally hilarious because of how bad they are. So instead of trudging through every single film, I would much rather single out the good segments, or at least those with potential.

Here, the premise centers around a group of people catching the last train car late at night. But instead of stopping at any of the stations, the train heads straight for the last one. It seems closed, so our cast wanders aimlessly in the dark trying to find a way out of the station, until they realize they're being hunted down by a strange creature. It kills them off one by one, until the remaining survivors finally escape the building and come across a bunch of policemen. They're brought to a room in the police station, where they wait to give their statements. But the creature suddenly waltzes in the door and preys on everyone trapped inside. It's revealed that the policemen were in on the whole thing all along: They're even purposely stationed outside the building to capture any stragglers. The creature is apparently a monstrous son of a high-ranking politician, who enlists government employees to cover up his kid's murder sprees every night. The segment ends with a janitorial crew cleaning up the blood inside the train car, getting it ready for its morning route.

The story is undoubtedly solid, with a twist that you don't immediately see coming. The final wordless scene, where janitors nonchalantly mop up the gore, as they likely have night after night, is creepy and effective. The cops delivering the exposition while making small talk works, too. The corruption and carnage is offset with a kind of "business as usual" banality, which is what makes LRT unique as fas as SRR stories go. 

It also captures the distinct feel of the urban Philippines, grounded on details that every Filipino can relate to, from tedious LRT commutes to everyday brushes with government corruption. We know riding the LRT can be dangerous. We know the police can't always be trusted. And we know there are politicians who pull strings to keep their families out of trouble. These are realities Filipinos live with; a story like LRT simply brings those realities to another level and exploits our worst fears about living in the city.

That's why it's that much more disappointing when the strong story is ruined by substandard effects. The writers obviously took a page out of The Village in the creature's design, as anybody can tell with the cape and spikes. The poor CGI, particularly during the chase scenes, really ruins the atmosphere this episode had worked hard to build. What really bothers me is that the CGI was totally unnecessary, too: The practical effects are fine when you see the creature close-up, but that isn't the point. It doesn't need to run after its victims at top speed, because there's nowhere to run. It would make the ending even punchier, knowing that there's no escaping for these poor people, so why not let the creature simply stalk them at its own pace? It would even make sense, since the creature probably knows that train station like the back of its hand, so it can afford to play with its victims and relish the hunt. 

The verdict: A memorable segment that had the potential to be greater than it was, had it not been for crappy special effects that made it look dated only a few years later.

See also: Ahas, a segment in SRR XV (2014) that similarly features monstrous offspring of some rich and influential asshole. The major difference is, in Ahas the aforementioned monster suffers from a serious case of cabin fever, whereas the one in LRT is given the freedom to sate its bloodlust by making a train station its personal killing field. One thing is they have in common, though, is that both are case studies in terrible parenting. 

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