Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Haunted Forest’s Glossy Sheen Couldn’t Disguise How Bland & Undercooked It Is

TL;DR: Great ideas & high production values are abound in Haunted Forest, but the sloppy execution renders it fruitless.

Haunted Forest has all the trappings of an excellent horror movie. Aris (Raymart Santiago) is a cop who is reassigned to his hometown, bringing his only daughter Nica (Jane Oineza) with him at his sister’s home. Both of them have a rocky relationship ever since Aris’ wife died, with Nica acting out or ignoring his demands. Aris helps out his friend & chief of police Nardo (Joey Marquez) in investigating a series of chilling murders inflicted on women, supposedly caused by a sitsit, an aswang-like creature lurking in the forest. When Nica finally opens up to her cousin & her friends, she joins their outing in a nearby river; including a cute boy named RJ (Jameson Blake) who clearly likes her. After the trip, she starts acting irrationally & prone to fainting. Soon she finds herself slowly reeled in by the sitsit and her friends & family will do everything they can to save her.

Unfortunately, the whole movie is completely dull. There’s a drought of scares due to its sloppy staging & generic nature, especially once it descends into the typical third act confrontation that’s neither thrilling nor fun. This extends to the whole film, where each scene feels perfunctory, shallow & oddly paced. There are also unfortunate scenes involving the village’s mentally disabled local named Voltron – who is the only witness to the murders – where Aris & Nardo beat him up senselessly for comic relief, that stands out for being hateful & ill-suited to the movie.

But glimmers of what could’ve been can be seen throughout the movie. Instead of becoming a metaphor for every father’s nightmare for their daughter taken to its extremes – like the Taken series – it wisely focuses on the father-daughter bond at its core, trying their best to rebuild what was lost after a horrible tragedy. It’s easier to root for these characters when it’s grounded in something painful; compared to Regal Films’ previous Haunted Mansion, where every character is either bland or despicable that you start rooting for their deaths. Raymart Santiago & Jane Oineza both shine in these roles as they reconnect after failing to communicate for so long. The rest of the cast elevate what could’ve been staler material in the wrong hands. Joey Marquez is doing his “gruff dad” shtick he’s been doing recently & it works. Jameson Blake sells his growing relationship with Nica as RJ thanks to their undeniable chemistry. Even if Maris Racal & Jon Lucas aren’t given much to do, they still enliven the film with their presence. There are also two standout sequences – Nica’s violent freakout & its aftermath in her bedroom – for managing to be creepy, but it’s pretty much downhill afterwards.

That’s not even mentioning the movie’s polished production values, so even when the movie isn’t working at all, at least it:s beautiful to look at. Rommel Sales’ cinematography creates eerie images in the dark. Ericson Navaro’s production design deserve praise for adding a foreboding atmosphere, like the creepy tableaus the victims end up in after their deaths. The CG special effects are also well done, but it distracts from the movie’s overall vibe.

Despite all this, it never rises above its middling quality. There are seeds of a better horror movie surrounding the movie, but it is in dire need of a more assured hand to pull it off. What we have instead is half-baked movie that never reached its full potential.

Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Siargao is a Gorgeous Meditation on Finding Ourselves & the Places We Do Them

TL;DR: Siargao is a thoughtful, melancholic take on finding yourself in an enchanting foreign land.

The idea of going to an unfamiliar land in order to find oneself has always been a tempting idea. Removing ourselves from the stresses & comforts of our ordinary routine can give us a chance to reflect & find out who we really are & what we really want in life. It’s such an alluring idea that it’s a trope used in different kinds of movies from coming-of-age stories, romantic comedies, & even action-adventure movies. It even had a resurgence in Filipino cinema thanks to the huge success of That Thing Called Tadhana (That Thing Called Destiny).

Paul Soriano’s first foray into romantic dramas dives head first into this trope – with a script by Anj Pessumal – but Siargao stands out from the rest by broadening its scope past its main outsider.

Laura (Erich Gonzalez) is a vlogger who ran away to Siargao to do some soul-searching after a life-changing moment didn’t go the way it should’ve. On the plane, she meets Diego (Jericho Rosales), a member of a famous band who escaped to his hometown of Siargao due to a scandal he caused. The two of them are at odds at first, but slowly become friends. Things start to get complicated when Diego reconnects with his old friend Abi (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), who are linked due to their muddy past.

What Siargao does so well is subtly tackle the myopia inherent in stories like this. Journeys of Self-Discovery™ are about enriching oneself in order to become a better person, but it is selfish in nature. Not that it’s a bad thing – since taking care of yourself & improving oneself should be encouraged – but it can become a narcissistic ordeal, where a place & its inhabitants are reduced to vessels of self-improvement, stripping it away of its humanity & complexity. 

These are even more egregious in Western stories, where Caucasian men & women searching for themselves descend into “Orientalism,” seeing the East as an exotic place of wonder, mystery, & enlightenment. One of the biggest offenders include Eat, Pray, Love & Hector and the Search for Happiness; the latter of which has Simon Pegg writing “sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story” in a notebook with one of the letters turned into a sad face after witnessing a violent incident involving a prostitute & her pimp while staying in Shanghai.

Obviously, Siargao never becomes an Orientalist tale simply because it’s not a tale told from the perspective of a white person, but the movie can still turn Siargao into an exotic paradise full of wise, simple folks who will help realize the full potential of privileged outsiders who can afford to stay there. What Siargao does to mitigate this is to fill the movie with characters who are also trying to find out what they want in their lives, including the ones who live in the island. Laura is surrounded by people who are also lost or taking a break from their lives in Siargao; some of them fell in love with the island so hard they choose to stay longer. Abi is a native who’s already chosen a path for herself – setting up a business while helping out initiatives to preserve the island’s beauty & support other business ventures from fellow locals – but Diego’s return makes her question her past decisions. And while Diego never shed his roots, his controversies force him to go back to the island & examine old wounds. Not only does this open up other points of view we don’t usually see in similar stories, but it questions the need for an “exotic paradise” in order to grow & if we are doing anything to conserve these places.

And the stories are compelling, even if they seem small in the grand scheme of it all. There’s a raw intimacy present as these people try to rebuild their lives, while a heavy sense of loss & regret slowly builds up, receding & progressing, until it crashes down on them, forcing them to do what they think is right. Setting it in the gorgeous vistas & beaches of Siargao isn’t put to waste thanks to Odyssey Flores, who captures the grandeur of Siargao, its surfing culture, & the interior lives of its characters through a variety of wide, drone & handheld shots inspired by vlogging that make the personal look epic & the epic look personal. The indie rock soundtrack, while typical, is still effective at capturing the movie’s mix of romance & melancholy.

Great performances from the central trio are key to making it less flimsy than it seems. Erich Gonzales is fantastic as a tourist opening up herself to Siargao & its people. Jericho Rosales gives Diego the right amount of smugness & charm that makes him even more charismatic. Jasmine Curtis-Smith is more quiet & subdued as Abi, but you can see how Diego’s return has made it awkward for her. In fact, all of them are trying to hide their suffering under their facades, trying to hold onto it until they become vulnerable.

What Siargao deeply understands about people is we will be forced to face our issues sooner or later. While places like Siargao offer a temporary respite from our problems, neither the island nor its inhabitants will resolve our problems. The island is just a place that needs to be taken care of, full of people who are also lost & in transition. What matters most is to figure out what we truly want & have the courage to pursue it & face the consequences.

Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Meant to Beh is Actually Good! This is Not a Drill!

TL;DR: Meant to Beh is a new benchmark for Vic Sotto’s movies. It is at its best when it focuses on the emotionally rich story at its core & trying out funny, wackier jokes, instead of falling back on old habits.

Everyone who found out that Meant to Beh is included in the first four slots reserved for films chosen through script submission either rolled their eyes in frustration or became giddy with excitement. Whether we like it or not – and I certainly don’t – Vic Sotto’s films have become an inseparable part of the Metro Manila Film Festival, either as a symbol of “squeaky clean” family entertainment or a form of crass capitalism that condescends to every ethnicity, class, or gender; even if his movies never gained any critical acclaim & aren’t the ridiculously huge moneymakers they used to be in the previous decade.

Meant to Beh may change all this, but only slightly. After years of tinkering what a Vic Sotto movie should look like in the 2010s by bringing in new directors & breaking out of the action-fantasy mold set out by Enteng Kabisote, they’ve finally made a movie that is actually, surprisingly good.

Ron (Vic Sotto) & Victoria (Dawn Zulueta) are two complete opposites married to each other. Ron is a down-to-earth manager of a car wash with tacky taste who enjoys danggit and salted egg for breakfast. Victoria is a classy, ambitious executive for a travel magazine who loves fine dining. Their marrigae isn’t perfect thanks to their communication issues & the reason for their union, but they unconditionally love their three children Christian, Alex, & Riley. 
But when all of their insecurities & problems erupt thanks to Ron’s close friendship with Agatha (Andrea Torres), his regular passenger after he became a driver for an Uber-like company, they decide to split up. Ron & Agatha start dating, while Victoria is courted by Benjo (Daniel Matsunaga), a famous model/actor/athlete she hired as the new face of their travel magazine. This sends her children in panic, doing everything they can to keep their family intact.

It seems like a set-up for a full-blown farce, but Meant to Beh does something very different that makes it stand out from Vic Sotto’s previous films. It presents us with a family with an interesting dynamic, while making room for jokes. Even the three children each have their own subplots. Christian (JC Santos) is an avid photographer who bonds more with his mother. He pretends to be someone else online when talking to his crush, since he’s too embarassed to talk to her. Alex (Gabbi Garcia) is a sporty tomboy who is closer to her father, trying to fend off the advances of his admirer played by Ruru Madrid. Riley (Baste Granfon) is a troublemaker with a penchant for making Rube Goldberg machines, whose idea of play is so rough none of his maids last long.

Their kids’ problems provide plenty of fodder for Ron & Victoria to break up, but it never does. One of the best things about the movie is for the majority of the film, it never takes the easy path in telling what could be a straightforward story. Instead of piling on one wacky external problem after another – either from their kids or Andrea – in order to create conflict, it opts for something more mature & emotionally true to their characters & their dysfunctional marriage, even as it falls apart. It gives Vic Sotto & Dawn Zulueta a chance to shine as a couple stuck in an odd marriage but still trying to make it work for their family, until it doesn’t. It gives them a chance to show off their underutilized skills, like Vic Sotto’s solid dramatic acting & Dawn Zulueta’s sharp comedic timing. Even Daniel Matsunaga & Andrea Torres are fine foils for their foibles. It even manifests in the way it handles product placement with care & subtlety, integrating it into the plot instead of stopping it completely for the heavy-handed commercials Vic Sotto’s movies are infamously known for. This means it moves slower than Vic Sotto’s older movies – even with the godawful product placement – but it’s much more rewarding that way.

The movie makes up for it by throwing as many gags as it can. What’s amazing is the movie’s hit ratio is higher than usual, since it cuts back on canned lines & heavy mugging for pure absurdity mixed with actual warmth. It’s also willing to subvert expectations for a joke heavily rooted in the characters. There are still references here & there – including one that feels like Dawn Zulueta is reclaiming a meme as her own – but it’s never intrusive & the cast sells the hell out of them. It’s the least mean-spirited & funniest movie Vic Sotto made in years.

Yet parts of Vic Sotto’s old style rears its head from time to time, often to its detriment. There’s the casual yellowface that segues into a plot where another woman throws herself into Vic Sotto’s arms, which thankfully gets resolved quickly. Canned lines pop up at times. And as soon as it gets closer towards the end, it flips back on the promise it presented for most of the movie for something happier yet emotionally false, which is the norm for his movies.
Not too mention the kid’s plots are duds – excpet for Riley’s maid problem – that take time away from Ron & Andrea’s marital problems, especially Christian’s creepy catfishing. That’s not a disservice to the actors who did great work – including Baste Granfon in his acting debut – but they don’t have the emotional richness of the main plot.

Clearly, Meant to Beh is an instant standout in Vic Sotto’s oeuvre because of the ways it updated his proven formula for today’s audiences. And yet both of its feet are standing between the past & the present, stepping forward & backward until it ends up weaker from where it started. If this is what Vic Sotto’s movies would look like from now on, we’re off to a good start. We still don’t know whether they’ll continue in this direction, or push it even further, but for now, let’s enjoy the fact that when families flock to Meant to Beh, they’re going to have a wonderful time.

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017: Patay na si Hesus is One of the Best Filipino Comedies Ever Made

> TL;DR: The headline is not a hyperbole: Patay na si Hesus is easily one of the best Filipino comedies ever made, just by being ridiculously funny & heartwarming.

Patay na si Hesus (Hesus is Dead) is a breath of fresh air. Initially released as part of QCinema 2016 & had a successful commercial release in this year’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Feast of Filipino Cinema), it was a surprising gift from Cebu, one of the growing regional film communities in the country, & a rebuke to the usual mainstream comedies we get from major studios.

Iyay (played by Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress winner Jaclyn Jose) is a single mother who has raised her three children on her own. When she finds out her ex-husband Hesus has died, she asks her children to visit their father’s funeral. Except for her son Bert (Paul Vincent Viado) – who has Down Syndrome – none of them wants to visit their father. Her son Jay (Melde Montañez) would rather be a lazy bum at home & deal with his girlfriend, & her trans son Jude (Chai Fonacier) would rather stay at home & take care of his girlfriend’s daughter. But Iyay would rather have her children pay their respects to their father – even if he was a horrible one – so she forces them to go on a road trip full of detours & obstacles, literally & figuratively.

Anything can happen on the road, & it’s pretty much the same with Patay na si Hesus. It has a loose, freewheeling sense of humor that allows it to toss different kinds of gags without distracting from the story, all thanks to its structure. It is at turns dark, raunchy, & surreal mixed with that snappy Cebuano wit. There’s also care in framing a shot to maximize a joke’s impact, which is still a rarity in our shores. Not all of the jokes land, but most of the jokes hit & they hit hard, with a force that can bust a gut. Even if a joke doesn’t work, another one that will is sure to come by.

Amidst all the chaos, it never loses its respect & affection with its characters. It’s so easy turn these characters as the butt of the jokes, especially since two of them are considered outliers in our society, yet it resists that impulse & even allowing these characters to join the fun. It manages to stand out just by treating its characters with warmth alone.

Those characters are portrayed by an excellent cast, who understand the movie’s loopy yet grounded wavelength. Jacklyn Jose is more known for her dramatic roles, but she proves that she has the versatility to do comedy as well. Her Iyay is resilient & easily annoyed in dealing with her children’s hangups – except for Bert – while trying her best to hide her exhaustion. The rest of the cast playing Iyay’s children are equally entertaining in their roles. The standout role has to be from Mailes Kanapi as an unhinged nun who livens up their trip. It’s a role that pushes the movie’s reality toward outright lunacy yet it works, thanks to Mailes Kanapi slowly showing how insane the nun is without pushing it to desperate mugging.

All of this combine for one of the most satisfying Filipino comedies ever made. It’s a heartwarming dark comedy that goes for broke without losing what makes its characters tic. It may not work all the time, but the highs are higher than most Filipino comedies could dream of.

Being made outside imperial Manila is significant. Most of our entertainment still come from Metro Manila, the central hub for Filipino media. Movies like Patay na si Hesus continue to prove there are voices outside Metro Manila that are needed to be heard. Ongoing support for movies like it will not only mean new stories for audiences, but slowly democratize our distribution systems to include movies made in other regions, redefining what a Filipino film is & what it can be. The fact that Patay na si Hesus is hilarious is gift in itself, but what it means for Filipino cinema is huge & shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is an Excellent Mystery Set in a Seemingly Godless Universe

TL;DR: Raya Martin’s adaptation of F.H. Batacan’s critically acclaimed novel eschews the lurid thrills in its premise to examine corrupt institutions & God’s place within it.

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

If you’re a believer, it’s a question that will cross your mind in the face of continuous adversity. It doesn’t matter if your problems are big or small, since we all have our own crosses to bear. Prayers are the only lifeline some of us have, especially in a world where the weak & oppressed are at a disadvantage & the institutions surrounding them rarely help or address their problems; forcing them to act sinfully in order to survive, lest they end up in a worse state than they were before. But what happens when no one seems to be on the receiving end of our prayers? It can seem like there’s an all-powerful being who will judge us, but never listens to our sufferings. Or worse: there’s no one there in the first place.

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Father Gus Saenz (Nomie Buencamino) & Father Jerome Lucero (Sid Lucero) find themselves in the perfect position to explore this conundrum in this movie adaptation of F.H. Batacan’s highly acclaimed novel, considered by many as the first Filipino crime novel. Both of them are Jesuit priests skilled in forensic science, whom are called by police director Francisco Lastimosa (Bembol Roco) to investigate a series of grisly murders targeting prepubescent boys in Payatas; a barangay famous for its huge garbage dumpsite & the poverty surrounding it. With the help of the Joanna Bonifacio (Carla Humphries), a nosy journalist who previously studied under Father Saenz, they’ll work together to figure out who is responsible for the senseless deaths.

The movie eschews the lurid thrills of its premise, since it’s not really what it’s about. It focuses more on our leads balancing their duties as priest who upholds the values of the Catholic Church, & as forensic experts helping out in any way they could. It embraces the process of solving the case, following clues & red herrings, & trying their best to figure out who perpetrated these murders & what kind of person would commit them. They also find themselves at the mercy of dysfunctional bureaucracies of the Catholic Church & the Philippine National Police, where corruption & incompetence fester rapidly that the powerless are not only at their mercy, but left to suffer continuously. While we get glimpses of the serial killer’s psychology throughout the movie – starting with the movie’s first scene – it never gives us the pleasure of enjoying the violence. It’s only teased out, & more often we see its chilling consequences. When we do get to see it, it is brutal, horrifying, awkward, & anticlimactic at times.

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It’s a workmanlike approach, allowing us to be absorbed in the brutal proceedings. It never gets too dark though, with its grim, deadpan sense of humor acting as a release valve that never overwhelms the sober tone it set. There’s also the throbbing score, a mix of subtle, pulsating synths, & the angelic voices of the Loboc Children’s Choir, sprinkled with quirky sound effects – like the sound of a dial-up router while the two priests are brainstorming – creating an atmosphere of doom amongst the Church & its young constituents. All of this is shot with a keen eye by J.A. Tadena, whose gorgeous cinematography drapes the movie with a grim color palette the further the leads are from positions of power, emphasizing how it feels to be ignored by institutions, & even God himself. After making critically acclaimed experimental films, Raya Martin has made another impressive work in his first foray into mainstream fare, that has enough quirky flourishes to make it stand out.

Surrounding the movie is a murderer’s row of talented actors. One of the best things about it are the surprise cameos from renowned actors delivering great work from bit parts – the best one involving an old woman giving Father Saenz a bag of maruya – that revealing them ruins half of the fun, so let’s talk about the performances that can’t be spoiled. Bembol Roco delivers a fiery performance as a morally upright police director who can unleash his anger in an instant. Raffy Tejado gives a layered portrayal as a slimy, incompetent attorney whose pride & ambition outmaches his intelligence & moral compass. Ricky Davao plays the role of Cardinal Meneses as a man who not only prioritizes the Church before his constituents, but also cunning enough to weaponize his supposed moral high ground.

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Arguably the best work comes from the leads, who crafted complex portrayals out of seemingly simple characters. Carla Humphries giver her role as a worldly, tenacious journalist with a warmth she shares with the people she’s familiar with. Sid Lucero exposes his character’s youth in his profession without diminishing his skills. Most importantly, Nomie Buencamino is a standout, who gives off a world-weary demeanor but never wavers in his fight against injustice.

These characters have moments where the stress of working on the case is starting to wear on them, yet they persevere; and not only because it’s the right thing to do. At one point, when Cardinal Menenses insinuates that Father Saenz has ulterior motives for joining the investigation, he replies: “There are many ways to give witness to faith.” We may not be sure if God exists, but Smaller and Smaller Circles suggests a way to bridge the gap between God & us mere mortals: helping the needy & exploited, & ensuring justice is served in the most humane way possible. It is the closest thing we have to an act of God, & those who have lost faith will need it.

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List: MMFF 2017 Entries Ranked By How Likely It Will Last in Theaters

The 2016 edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival was an unheralded critical & commercial success, all thanks to a simple yet critical rule change: Only finished films are allowed to be included in the film festival, where it will be judged by a selected jury if they are worthy of being included. In previous years, only scripts are submitted, which are still subject to changes, & while there’s a criteria as to what kind of films get selected, it’s basically useless since easily marketable movies headlined by famous stars like Vic Sotto & Vice Ganda are prioritized. (You can read a detailed look at these shenanigans here.) People are discussing the movies themselves, instead of whether it made a ton of money in the box-office.

And because we live in the Philippines, any whiff of progress that shuns powerful gatekeepers & lessens corporate profits will be stopped. That’s what happened this year, where a compromise was made: there will be four slots alloted for script submissions & finished films. Unsurprisingly, MMFF mainstays who were shunned last year got their spots back. However, a bunch of promising titles were also included in the lineup.

But being included in the MMFF lineup isn’t a guarantee that your movie will be seen. Theaters are very eager to pull out underperforming movies from their cinemas even on the second day of the film festival, just so they could open more theaters for box-office hits. Allowing more commercially viable films under the guise of accepting them as script submissions is going to make this problem worse. Regardless of quality, all of these movies have a right to be seen for the duration of the film festival.

As a sign of where things are headed, I’ve ranked all of the entries for MMFF 2017 based on how likely it will be pulled out in theaters. These movies will be ranked based on star power, the success of the movie’s genre during the film festival & educated guesses based on my experience watching movies for this film festival. Quality is not an important part of the ranking, but it is still considered; depending on the early reviews & the track record of the people who made the movie.

While ensuring that all of these movies will be screened for the entirety of the film festival would be better, seeking out you’re selected movie entry as soon as possible is unfortunately the best course of action. And unsurprisingly, the first half of the list are finished film submissions, while the last half are script submissions, which will not have any problems securing theaters for their movies.

1. Ang Larawan

This film adaptation of Larawan, The Musical – which itself was also adapted from National Artist of Literature Nick Joaquin’s The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino – is the most fascinating of the bunch; which means it’s not long for this world. It tells the story of two unmarried sisters trying to stay afloat during the onset of World War II, when their father, a famous painter, stopped producing artworks. However, his self-portrait has attracted the curiosity of journalists & pretentious art critics, & it might be their way out of their financial mess. This historical musical has already premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival, where it got a rave review from Variety, but that may not be enough to pull in audiences. Historical movies aren’t huge moneymakers during the film festival, but the novelty of being a musical might pull in the right audience. It needs to build positive word-of-mouth as soon as possible or it will not make it to the end of the film festival.

How long will it last: For malls with a lot of cinemas, it will survive until the end of the film festival. But if the reactions from critics & audiences are muted, it will be screened 2-3 days in the film festival. Afterwards, malls will pull it out in favor of more profitable entries.

2. Siargao

Paul Soriano tackles the romance genre for the first time, with a love triangle set in the gorgeous island of Siargao. It looks very promising, since it’s written by Anj Pessumal – who co-wrote English Only, Please & worked on some of Star Cinema’s biggest hits like Starting Over Again – & Paul Soriano bringing the technical prowess his previous movies have shown in his latest movie. The footage from the trailer alone is jaw-droppingly beautiful. However, there’s another romantic movie in the lineup with a similar looking tone – composed of MMFF standbys – so it might not stay long in theaters.

How long will it last: It will make it until the end of the film festival, but its theater count will decrease every day. It needs to have vocal support from critics & audiences so it can survive the entirety of the film festival. It could even have an additional week or more in theaters after the film festival, if audiences flock to it.

3. Deadma Walking

This movie already won an award before it got made. Based on a Palanca-winning screenplay, it tells the story of a gay man who fakes his own death & throws an early funeral with the help of his best friend, after he’s diagnosed with cancer. This looks like a great alternative for those looking for a comedy starring gay men that doesn’t involve Vice Ganda, but that may be its downfall as they face off against Vice Ganda. It does have potential to become the sleeper hit of the festival, if critics & audiences will enjoy its mix of farcical hijinks & heartwarming moments about friendship & mortality.

How long will it last: It will get a complete run for the entirety of the film festival. There’s a chance it could even stay for at least another week in malls, if reactions from audiences & critics are ecstatic.

4. Haunted Forest

Regal Films may have allowed the Shake, Rattle & Roll franchise to die for now, but that doesn’t mean they stopped making horror films for the MMFF. They now have Haunted Forest to provide scares for the audience during this season. A father & his daughter visit their province at the worst time possible, since their small town is being attacked by a creature called sitsit, who targets women & killing them. It looks like Regal Films is banking on this one to become a profitable crowdpleaser, just by looking at the film’s impressive special effects, production design, & cinematography. They have good reason to do so, since the very similar looking Haunted Mansion was the surprise hit of MMFF 2015. And there’s no reason to doubt it, since audiences are always looking out for horror movies at this time of the year, & being the only horror movie – one that looks this slick – makes it stand out in the lineup.

How long will it last: There’s no question it will retain its theaters for the entirety of the film festival, and its life after will likely be fruitful too. It could stay for at least one week in cinemas after the film festival, before it gets swallowed by new releases. By then, it would have probably made a bunch of money.

5. Meant to Beh

Formerly known by its more cringeworthy title Love Traps: #FamilyGoals, Vic Sotto & the rest of the Eat Bulaga Acting Troupe – as I’d like to call them – are back, trying hard to capture their box-office dominance before Vice Ganda swooped it from them like a thief in the night. Their latest attempt now includes Dawn Zulueta, reuniting with Vic Sotto after more than 30 years & last worked with him in Okay Ka, Fairy Ko! Both of them play a married couple who decide to split up & date other people, while their children try their best to bring them back together. It looks like the same, formulaic shtick Vic Sotto has doled out in recent years, which caused them to lose their hold with audiences. These movies aren’t widely praised by critics either.

In fact, last year proved they need the MMFF more than it needs them. When Vic Sotto & Vice Ganda’s entries weren’t included in MMFF 2016, they released both movies on November 30, 2016 alongside Moana & other Hollywood movies. Vice Ganda’s Super Parental Guardians grossed ₱75 million on its first day alone, while Vic Sotto’s Enteng Kabisote 10 & the Abangers (ugh) kept their total box office gross to themselves. The closest data I could gather was they grossed ₱4.4 million on all SM Cinemas around 3:00 PM on their opening day. I even remember the theater count for Enteng Kabisote 10 & the Abangers dwindling every week. During the week before Christmas, the movie was already dropped in Ayala cinemas; which is how I ended up watching it on SM Megamall.

But now that they have their spot back, there’s a ridiculously high chance they can earn their money back & then some. They have already carved out a space for themselves during this film festival by presenting themselves as the choice appropriate for the whole family; even if their previous movies have been homophobic, colorist, or sexist. For those who deem Vice Ganda movies as too risqué for kids – and they are – they will flock to the good-natured charms of Meant to Beh.

How long will it last: Thankfully for Vic Sotto, it will get to complete its festival run. While their box-office performance last year was terrible compared to the previous years, they have a chance to pull in more audiences, which might ensure it will have at least one week after the film festival.

6. All of You

We should be thankful that Derek Ramsey, Jennylyn Mercado, & director Dan Villegas have carved a space for romantic comedies in the film festival, with the surprise hit English Only, Please, & they seem intent on carrying that tradition. Their latest movie focuses on a loving couple finds out how hard cohabitation can be. This would have to be offensively horrible for it to become a huge commercial flop. Villegas’ brand of mixing emotional honesty with romantic comedy tropes has always been a hit with critics & audiences. Looking at the trailer alone, it seems like they have another great movie in hands that will pull in huge audiences.

How long will it last: If this movie connects with critics & audiences the same way English Only, Please & #WalangForever did, it will have a long life in theaters. It will get at least four weeks in theaters, including its festival run, & it may survive the onslaught of Hollywood releases in January as its theater count slowly dwindles.

7. Ang Panday

Coco Martin continues his quest to mold his image out of Fernando Poe Jr. until Da King himself will be irrelevant & forgotten, lost to the sands of time, as he headlines & directs the latest reboot of Ang Panday; the credited director is Rodel Naciaceno, which is Coco Martin’s real name. Shifting the locale from a small provincial town to the streets of Tondo, Manila, Coco Martin plays the grandson of Flavio Batungbakal, who needs to become the rightful heir of the legendary sword in order to defeat Lizardo. What’s most striking about the latest reboot is it cribs numerous aspects from FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano, like the shaky, handheld camerawork, the focus on family, shooting on gritty locations, the explosive action scenes & pairing Coco Martin with a beautiful woman who will certainly be put in danger. There’s no reason to doubt it will be a huge hit, considering it fills the gap left by Enteng Kabisote & its novel take on the Filipino classic might make it more attractive to audiences. It’s also catnip to fans of FPj’s Ang Probinsyano, which continues to be the highest-rated weekly primetime show in Philippine TV & currently renewed up to 2018; running a new episode five days a week without any breaks & beating out its competitors in the same timeslot.

How long will it last: This will be one of the biggest moneymakers in the film festival, so not only will it get to complete its festival run, but it will probably get an additional two weeks in theaters after the film festival is over.

8. Gandarrapido: The Revenger Squad

There’s no doubt this movie will become the highest grossing entry in the film festival. Super Parental Guardians is the highest grossing Filipino movie of all time, earning more than ₱600 million; it helped that this movie was playing in provinces during MMFF 2016 eyeroll emoji. It proved Vice Ganda can pull in ridiculously huge audiences that he can break box-office records he previously set. This doesn’t look any different, as Vice Ganda is using his acerbic, reference-laden brand of comedy to take on the superhero genre, with Daniel Padilla & Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach by his side. Judging from the trailer, Bb. Joyce Bernal might have a better handle on mixing comedy & action scenes. The special effects look so much better compared to what we see in Filipino films. All of this could add up to the biggest moneymaker in the film festival. Don’t be surprised if the movie you’re planning to watch is removed to make room for this one.

How long will it lastThe question isn’t whether if it will survive in theaters, but how long will it retain its theaters. It will have additional two weeks in theaters after the film festival. Afterwards, its theater count will slowly deplete, where it will hold for at least two weeks in malls with a great number of theaters, before it’s ignored for newer releases by February.

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017: Salvage Drags Us Straight to the Surreal Horrors of Mindanao

TL;DR: Salvage is an ambitious, inventive found-footage horror movie that delivers us straight to the surreal horrors of Mindanao.

To people living outside the Mindanao region, especially those who lived their whole lives in Luzon & have never set foot there, it is a place full of wonder & terror. The beautiful beaches & waterfalls, the gorgeous mosques, & the fascinating mix of Filipino, Moro, & Christian cultures clash with the threat of violence that’s plagued the region; just look at the recent Marawi siege as an example. It’s a place dripping with complexities & contradictions caused by its history of colonialism, terrorism, & neglect & indifference from imperial Manila, that it can be easy to simplify or misunderstand its problems.

Such is the case for the Manila-based TV news team at the center of this excellent Filipino found-footage horror movie. After their team was suspended when their lead reporter (Joel Saracho) caused a scandal by verbally & physically fighting a female politician in Mindanao, they’re sent off to central Mindanao to do a puff piece done in the style of a video diary about a series of killings rumored to be caused by an aswang. No one in the group is interested to cover such a light story, & everyone is in varying stages of boredom & annoyance; especially their lead reporter, who acts snobby & condescends to the locals. When they got lost trying to reach their next destination, a group of men dressed up in military jackets try to abduct them. As they try to escape death, lots of screaming & running ensue, while they continue to record everything unfolding to them as evidence of their suffering.

At first, it unfolds like a well-executed but typical entry into the genre. There are lots of shaky, handheld footage, the video often glitches out, & the audio can get choppy, but none of it is distracting enough that it can be hard to know what’s going on. Everyone in the cast is suited to playing their role, especially Joel Saracho as the impulsive journalist with elitist tendencies. However, it’s more focused on creating a sense of unease from being trapped in an unfamiliar land without exoticizing Mindano; one of the movie’s creepiest scenes has the journalist insultingly asking a boy to hold a piece of white paper in front of a camera while the cameraman fixes the white balance.

It slowly becomes even more surreal & nightmarish as they go deeper through the jungle to escape their captors. But what exactly are chasing them? Is it a rebel group posing as soldiers? Is it a rogue military troop? Is it an order from the military themselves? Does it involve the aswangs somehow? The answer is somewhere in between. What’s clear is we’re seeing the unfiltered beauty, rage, & confusion of Mindanao caused by its complex history, distilled through a camera that sees the stark truths more clearly than the TV news team at its center; to the point that only the audience are privy to footage “seen” by the camera. It’s an ambitious effort, fighting back against the limitations of the format to capture the state of a misrepresented, undervalued region. The news team can edit & manipulate reality – once by asking local authorities to carry a body once again due to the camera’s incorrect white balance – but there’s no way of escaping this truth: They went into the region underestimating it & ignorant of its current state, & there may be no escape from the consequences.