Solenn Heussaff delivers a full range of emotions without having to utter a single word in the film Misterio de la Noche.
Directed by Adolf Alix Jr., Misterio de la Noche tells the story of a woman raised by nymphs in an enchanted forest. She falls in love and seeks revenge after she is betrayed by the man he loves.
The taong-gubat, played by Solenn, takes the saying “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” to monstrous levels, and transforms into a fearsome creature: a manananggal.
The story is set in the Philippines in the 1800s, during the Spanish colonization. You’ll see women in their baro’t saya and terno, men in camisa de chino and pants, and guwardiya sibil in uniforms. It’s one big Filipiniana costume party shot in architectural structures reminiscent of that era, where the cast tries to be in character, not just with their attire, but also in their actions and manner of speaking.
Solenn’s character cannot speak. Despite such limitations, she was able to deliver a full range of emotions—wonder, joy, pleasure, ecstasy, fear, pain, agony, sorrow, anger, and regret—through her facial expressions and body movements.
Benjamin Alves, on the other hand, was a good match as Domingo, a man who goes hunting in the jungle only to find a strange woman (he would later call her “Maria”) who seduces him.
How does a woman without breeding or verbal ability express sexual desire, and how does a civilized man respond?
Primal instinct does break barriers. The love scenes are graphic, but tastefully executed.
The scenes showcasing the buildup and seduction leading to the actual sexual act, however, are far more entertaining not because they were arousing, but because they are funny. They offer comic relief just when the audience needs it, and sends them into a laughing spree.
In spite of all the numerous mystical elements and plot twist in Misterio de la Noche, one seemingly trivial matter makes you wonder: Why was Maria the only character who was stark naked all throughout the film?
Maria was raised by nymphs in the forest, who, despite being uncivilized, were self-conscious enough to wear simple clothes to cover their private parts, or protect themselves from the draft, perhaps.
Not that we have a problem with seeing Solenn’s perfectly toned physique; it’s just that we’d expect parental figures, no matter how enchanted, to clothe a young girl they loved and protected as their own. They had the intelligence to understand Maria’s heartbreaking situation, and even sought vengeance on her behalf.
So why would they allow the young Maria to roam around topless and commando her whole life, given the possibility that some strangers from town would find their way to the forest at some point?
There’s so much humor and drama folded into this scary movie/period film/folklore/love story combo that you can’t acknowledge it as just a horror film, as what’s written on the tin. That’s the beauty of it.
It eliminates all the negative connotations you may have had regarding aswang-related films, which you may have gotten from watching too many tacky scary movies in your youth.
It does not have any of those corny, overused tropes people have gotten tired of.
Solenn’s transformation from taong-gubat to aswang is cringe-worthy and emotional at the same time.
It might get the waterworks started, and the waterworks might continue, once she comes full circle and gets her piece of justice toward the end of the film.
What’s fascinating about this film is that it is able to tell a story, convey universal ideas about human existence, stab viewers’ hearts, make them laugh, and teach life lessons, despite limitations.
Half of the main cast—Maria and the nymphs—don’t utter a word. And yet, their eyes clearly display their wisdom, and were overflowing with whatever emotion they harbored at any given time. There’s so much love, but nobody has to say “I love you.”
What they could not put into words, they expressed through words and actions, and what they could not take further through body language, were amplified through emotive musical scoring.
You find yourself laughing at one point, and crying the next. You’ll see the motherly concern and pain in the old nymph’s eyes and feel it welling up in your chest, while Solenn’s anguish closes in around you.
And then, Radha’s emotive soulful chanting creeps into your ears, seeps into your brain, slides down, and rips your heart apart. It’s ambitious, it’s something else.
Misterio dela Noche, which had a special screening during Cinemalaya 2019, deserves to be seen by a larger audience.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial team.