(Philippines 2021; Dir: Maria Estela Paiso)

It's Raining Frogs Outside

The Horror of Memory

review by Sabrina Vetter

It's Raining Frogs Outside

original title: Ampangabagat Nin Talakba Ha Likol

length: 14

year of production: 2021

country of production: Philippines

director: Maria Estela Paiso

production: Gale Osorio

director of photography: Eric Bico

editing: Maria Estela Paiso

sound: Yügen Bei Bei, Lawrence Ang

cast: Alyana Cabral

festivals: Berlinale 2022, Vienna Shorts 2022, Kurzfilm Festival Hamburg 2022, Leiden Shorts 2022

© images: 'Ampangabagat Nin Talakba Ha Likol' (Maria Estela Paiso)

Memory is a tricky thing. It is subjective, selective, interchangeably, context-dependent, and all of that at the same time. Maria Estela Paiso’s ‘It's Raining Frogs Outside’ delves into these unpredictable layers of the mind, especially those coming to the surface under extreme circumstances. As the finality of life is catching up on her, the film’s protagonist Maya is confronted with fickle memories of past and present. Rather than using the theme of remembrance to depict a nostalgic look at Maya’s childhood, Paiso presents this walk down memory lane as a horror show, in which the central character is losing grip on her own identity, and on life.

In the Filipina filmmaker’s debut film, Maya finds herself back in her childhood home all alone as the end of the world seems nigh. The Zambales based house, which once was filled with a busy family life including lively dinners and birthday parties with parents and siblings, has now been abandoned. The chilling atmosphere is underlined by the film’s enclosed setting: Maya is confined to the walls of her family’s former house, moving in between a bed and a chair from which she watches the terror unfolding outside the bedroom window. How this state of loneliness and abandonment came to be for the main character is left in the dark and for the audience to imagine. Is the imminent death of humanity the only possible outcome in a reality where natural forces and laws of physics are out of order? While this and similar questions remain unanswered, the uncertainty the audience experiences isn’t detrimental to the horror unraveling on-screen. Even more so, finding Maya the only person alive emphasizes how dire the circumstances of her fate truly are.

As fitting for a horror story, a sense of discomfort for the audience is all-encompassing. The uneasiness of the claustrophobic interior is only accelerated by the events transpiring outside of them. The film does not hesitate for a second of its runtime to show the audience the shocking events Maya witnesses, a sense of dread sets in right at the film’s opening when ‘It's Raining Frogs Outside’ shows us a shocking downpour of frogs. Not only what happens within the isolated boundaries of Maya’s confinement, but also what ensues outside, makes the horror of an assured death even more impactful. Dreadful images and sounds of frog bodies splashing onto the ground are present for almost its entire duration.

As the first film from a female filmmaker from the Philippines shown in the Berlinale Shorts section (as of 2022), and the very first film in the Sambal language altogether, ‘It’s Raining Frogs Outside’ is a landmark of Philippine cinema. Moreover, Paiso is able to embed the uniqueness of her work into cinematic history, on the one hand exemplifying a singular vision and on the other proving how films permanently relate to one another beyond the borders of language, genre definitions, aesthetic choices or geographical location.

Paiso’s memorable rain of frogs is the harbinger of something much more sinister than the other famous version of the meteorological phenomenon previously depicted in cinema: Paul Thomas Anderson’s take, which occurs at two hours and forty-five minutes into the runtime of ‘Magnolia’. While the surprisingly real, however rarely and on a much smaller scale occurring spectacle implicates chaos, redemption and forgiveness in the 1999 mosaic feature film, it illustrates pure terror in Paiso’s short, and hints at the inescapible end of humanity. Similar to the story from the book of Exodus, in which frogs are sent from God to the Pharaoh and the people of Biblical Egypt as one of the ten plagues, the monsoon of animals seen here is an invading force, symbolizing a world out of order.

Looking beyond the intertextuality in relation to American cinema and Biblical texts, this very personal Filipino short film centers its investigation on the coping mechanisms of the human mind and body in times of disaster. Finding herself alone and with no promises of the future to hold onto, Maya is in a state of monotony. A lack of physical contact, repetitive daily routines and a limited space to move in as the days pass by, have made her life void of joy. While this frozen state of existence has taken a toll on her mental health and induces a rather transformative identity crisis, watching the dying frogs makes the impending loss of life even more palpable.

In her solitude, she tries to remember a life before — before the rain, before her home stopped feeling like a home, and before she no longer was herself. The moments that follow play out like a frenzied nightmare to the audience, and are ultimately a portrayal of the chaotic state that is a decaying consciousness trying to find peace and forgiveness in its last breaths. As the audience is taken on a journey into Maya’s innermost, where her memories of past and present intermingle, reality becomes a blur. The deep dive into the real and unreal timeline of a life’s memory is presented as a collage of images of children’s birthday parties, family gatherings and more somber responsibilities that come with adulthood. These brief insights into Maya’s life become much more clear the further they go back in time.

Not only do Maya’s recollections falter, her body equally collapses. As she tries to cope with the apocalyptic realities, her body is no longer under her control: her face distorts, her hair falls out and she imagines her skin to melt away more and more everyday. This deterioration is shown in a shocking manner bringing to mind familiar body horror tropes as she imagines a bug crawling into her eye, her skin separating and her hair pulling herself underwater.

American film scholar Linda Williams argues for the sensational effects of body genre films as giving “our bodies an actual physical jolt”. (1) As a spectacle of bodily access, the body horror genre promises that the audience’s sensations mimic what is seen on screen. Paiso deliberately doesn’t hold back in illustrating Maya’s lost sense of reality, confronting the audience with sensations of discomfort such as itching, suffocation and the stickiness of melting skin. Through a mixture of computer graphics, underwater stunt work and impressive body makeup, Maya’s progressing mental and physical decay takes on several forms. Some clever stylistic choices affect the audience similarly as to the sense of dismay experienced by the protagonist, successfully broadening the subjectiveness of the experience.

Ultimately, Maria Estela Paiso’s film is a frenzy in which the challenging task of investigating a mind that can no longer make sense of past and present is undertaken by facing the turmoil of this existence head on. An horrific cinematic chaos which adequately reflects the identity crisis in the face of tragedy.

(1) Williams, Linda (1991). Film Quarterly. Vol. 44, No. 4, pp. 2-13: Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess. University of California Press.