In the Philippines, children are told to stay indoors every night because of a shapeshifting monster known as the aswang. The aswang usually preys on those they see during midnight—a man passing by the street, a family whose house is left uncovered.
Among the country’s vast creatures in its folklore, the aswang still prevails as the most prolific. Due to their shapeshifting powers, they are mostly feared because of their clever disguises. In hearsays, they flaunt themselves as regular humans, blending easily into the crowd.
Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s documentary Aswang merges Philippine folklore with the current drug war in the country, led by President Rodrigo Duterte. The film repeatedly states that the monsters of the past now take the form of today’s cold-blooded killers—a comparison that makes for a terrifying expose on the injustices currently happening in the Philippines.
Aswang follows a group of individuals whose lives have been greatly affected by this issue: a street kid who is waiting for his parents to be released from prison, a coroner, a missionary brother who devotes himself to comfort bereaved family members, and a journalist who reports at night to stand up against lawlessness.
With these perspectives, the film opens up to view the varying personal impacts of violence and injustice, especially for the younger generation whose childhoods are desensitized by the horrific news of the present. A pivotal scene in the movie shows a group of children playing in the streets pretending to be cops battling criminals. One would imagine himself carrying a gun, shooting his friend portraying a possible crime suspect, and the other falls to the ground to play dead.
Aswang is narrated by a young girl, whose stories about folklore creatures unflinchingly mirror the multiple deaths brought by the drug war. Like the aswang creature, the killers behind these murders are unknown—rumors say that men in uniform are a part of this, but until now, it remains a myth.
The film never meant to compare, but the uncanniness between fictional stories and reality is obvious. Perhaps, our truth may have been stranger than our make-believes.