Vengeance, violence and vampires reign in Vincent Soberano’s fantasy action film.
“Here is your shirt, and your booty shorts.”
Hey, wow. Now that’s a title. Lots to unpack here and very little time (honestly, only 70 minutes including credits and opening narration), so let’s get into it. Gabriella (Sarah Chang) is a cop-turned-aswang-killer (as noted in one of several exposition dumps), who has been chasing human-aswang hybrid Naga (Temujin Shirzada) for years after her family was killed. She is eventually defeated by him and his lieutenant Gundra (Mekeal Turner), and is rescued by two aswang killers Max (Ian Ignacio) and Kali (Roxanne Barcelo). They bring her to a slaying camp, where she meets a number of people dedicated to finding and hunting monsters – called Blood Hunters – and they plan an assault on Naga and his monstrous crew.
In case you were wondering what an aswang is, they’re folklorish monsters from the Philippines, not unlike vampires or ghouls – although the term seems pretty vague. Blood Hunters is a film that wants to explore these creatures, but is interesting because it is entirely devoid of a second act – which is normally where much of this exploration of these would take place. It was based off of writer-director-star Vincent Soberano’s short film Blood Hunters: Aswang, released in the same year yet comes across as very much the kind of movie that a larger production would build from. It feels like both the pilot and season finale of a TV show I haven’t seen, but is all the more fascinating because of it. The simplicity in the storytelling seems almost calculated.
Soberano has been in the film and TV industry for about thirty years, according to his IMDb, and so it’s no surprise that Blood Hunters is able to capture some of that experience. The production values are pretty good, and considering how jacked the guy is, I have to assume he knows a lot about action scenes and movie fights. Because those are easily the best parts of the movie, with slick camerawork that doesn’t often fall into the trap of quick cuts and shows off the skills of the actors.
Where it falls down is in two key places: the writing, and the cast. Soberano’s world has a lot of potential but at the moment comes across as the sort of thing you’d see as a student’s thesis film. A bunch of people meet at a camp for aswang slayers, and then they get together to kill some aswangs. There’s the promise of something more interesting there. Filipino myths don’t exactly get much exposure this side of the globe, and so a creator like Soberano – who began his career in the US – could carve out a niche for himself if he took the effort to really develop both his lore and script.
And then there’s the acting, which is at best endearingly goofy and at worst stilted and boring. Many of the stars return, having played major roles in Soberano’s previous feature The Trigonal. Everyone in the film is talented in martial arts, fight choreography and action scenes which do make up for the fact that their dialogue is written and delivered so awkwardly. When over half your movie is effectively just people fighting, it’s probably an OK compromise. And it’s not like the cast isn’t having fun: Temujin Shirzada and Mekeal Turner chew every inch of scenery they can get their teeth into and it’s a blast to watch them.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself watching Blood Hunters. There’s a certain charm to the entire production that’s hard to really dislike. Sure, it suffers from a lot of issues, but none of those is that the people involved weren’t trying, and the effort really shows. From the out-of-place but pretty fun comic book transitions to the effects used whenever the aswangs move about, this is a labour of love. All Soberano really needs is a crash course on screenwriting and an acting coach and he could easily be one of the Philippines’ top directors, alongside Erik Matti. He’s still new to the directing game, and if he can translate the talent he has for action scenes into the rest of his art, he’ll be one to watch out for.
Verdict: Blood Hunters has lots of goofy appeal and good stuntwork, but could really do with more structure.
Overall entertainment: 6/10
Sex: None, sadly
Aswang designs: 8/10
Twists: One? I think? Was it even a twist?
Coincidences: Soberano played a role in the first review I ever wrote for the site – Police Story 2013!
Blood Hunters: Rise of the Hybrids (2019)
Director: Vincent Soberano
Writer: Vincent Soberano
Sarah Chang – Gabriella
Temujin Shirzada – Naga
Monsour Del Rosario – Monte
Vincent Soberano – Bolo
Ian Ignacio – Max
Roxanne Barcelo – Kali
Mekael Turner – Gundra
Levi Ignacio – Ishida
Mayling Ng – Maya
Althea Vega – Maggie
Will Devaughn – Mario