In 2007, Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom's made a movie called Alone (Thai title: แฝด, "Fad"; lit. "Twin"), about the ghost of a conjoined twin and her surviving sister and their crazy mother. Their movie was a big hit in the Phillippines.

One day, the multi-award-winning Filipina film editor Tara Illenberger watched Alone, and thought she could re-make it as an original horror movie called Guni-Guni (lit. "Figment"), and that nobody would notice, because the goyim are stupid.

However, many people did indeed notice the multiple similarities. Even the poster for Alone was copied.

Illenberger is, appropriately, a co-owner of Soft Sponge Productions.

Alone poster

Guni Guni poster

GUNI GUNI trailer


Tara Illenberger's Guni Guni - Busy Exposition in Narrative Clutter

Make Me Blush review

Mylene (Lovi Poe) glides through her life with unruffled sobriety. On cursory glance, everything’s a bed of roses for the statuesque medical student: she tops her tough class; she nurtures a seemingly loving relationship with boyfriend/classmate Paolo (Benjamin Alves); and her best friend Joanna (Empress Schuck) is a constantly unwavering presence. But she has disquieting secrets. She possesses a scar that runs the whole length of her torso down to her flank. She would occasionally fight off suicidal tendencies. Moreover, she collects human body parts from her school’s janitor Jonas. However, these gifts come with a dear price. But why such emotional upheavals?

Mylene’s troubles don’t end there. Her rent hasn’t been paid for two months and her promissory note has been rejected. “Ikaw na lang ang ‘di nakakapagbayad at hindi makakakuha ng exams,” reminded the cashier. Meanwhile, on their first year anniversary, boyfriend Paolo is determined to get into her pants. When she stalls, he walks out and leaves her stranded on a remote field. Such frustration.

People at her boarding house have secrets of their own. Her landlord Tatay Nanding (Jaime Fabregas) who’s afflicted with Alzheimer seems to be feeding raw meat to a creature that’s buried at his backyard garden. Mrs. Arevalo (Gina Alajar) cryptically waits for her son Javier’s (Guji Lorenzana) intermittent visits. Nanny Vangie (Julia Clarete) diligently follows after her mentally challenged ward JJ (Gerald Pesigan), all the while pining for the affection of JJ’s father (Neil Ryan Sese), a detail man in Tarlac. Meanwhile, Joanna (Empress) could feel the restless presence of wandering souls all around her. When a new girl (Ria Garcia) arrives to rent an available room, mysteries further rankle the already muddled scenario. And our characters start dropping like flies.

Tara Illenberger is one of the industry's most prolific film editors, and editors usually make great directors. It comes with the territory of judiciously using pieces of a story to make a coherent whole. This was why it was a thrill to hear about Illenberger's first mainstream project. Unfortunately, Illenberger's "Guni Guni" (Figment) is a product of an over eager storyteller. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to point out a singular narrative strain more urgent than the next. There are too many disparate concepts that don't mesh well with the individual predicament of our characters. The by-product is one messy cinematic experience that's more tiresome than frightful.

Are we discoursing about guilt? Retribution, maybe? Alienation? Insanity? Are we dealing with ominous fixations? If the answers are all "yes", then we know there's a problem. A film has to have a single focus. In "Guni Guni" however, there are several creatures that go bump in the night: and every single character is hounded by them; there's the eye-enucleating, sexually starved doppelganger with eyes made of tin foil hastily pasted over the lids; the Juon-patterned ashen faced child ghost; there's the aborted fetus; the visiting ghost of a son, etc. There's also a bevy of issues not directly related to the horrific premise - like the infanticipating Alicia (Ria Garcia) who underwent a simplistic dilatation and curettage procedure from medical student Mylene - or did she? Her story came and went without much fanfare. In fact, you could rid of Alicia's character without disrupting the flow of the story. Why was she there in the first place?

Mylene is collecting human body parts that would somehow physically re-construct Myra, her Siamese twin; these would approximate her physical persona had Myra survived. You see, Mylene was born a conjoined twin, but her twin Myra had to be sacrificed because they shared a single heart. "Ikaw ang pinili ko kasi napakaganda mo, anak," explained their looney mother (Isay Alvarez) who's mentally scarred for life for doing so.

In the film, you'll find a medical class whose only subject lingers around twins - as though they are specializing in Twinology more than treating the sick body. And if it isn't serendipitous enough, Dr. Gonzaga (Chinggoy Alonzo) isn't just Mylene's didactic professor; he was also the same doctor who separated Mylene from twin Myra some 20 years ago. Doesn't this shake you to the core? Are you still following me? :) Moreover, there's a best friend with a 3rd eye. Her senses are too acutely aware of the spirits moving around the house, yet she never unravels any of the mysteries surrounding them. How useless naman, debah?

Lovi Poe inhabits Mylene with enigmatic chagrin, but something about her guilt - or lunacy - doesn't rope you into her life. She inspires detachment more than empathy, thanks to the muddled character development. Benjamin Alves registers well and competently tackles his naughty persona with adequate verve. Empress isn't really allowed to do much, though she's never bad. Others don't fare as well - Gina Alajar's cryptic Mrs. Arevalo is so theatrical, you wonder where her thespic control and brilliance have gone after all these years. Ditto to Isay Alvarez who's very lost in her lunatic borborygmus.

With sparkling camera work, great production value and an embarrassing riches of talent, it's such a pity to end up with a snooze-worthy product that's more narrative diarrhea than compelling story. Pass that Imodium tablet please.

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