MMFF 2018: Otlum Looks Great But is Just as Dumb as Its Title

TL;DR: Otlum looks great, but it mucks up a decent idea by being lazy & derivative.

It’s hard to get over the fact that a movie called Otlum got included in the Metro Manila Film Festival in the godawful year of 2018, as if the MMFF executive committee is coming up with new ways to show how obnoxious & terrible this whole endeavor has become. For everyone who doesn’t speak Tagalog, Otlum is the Tagalog word for ‘ghost’ spelled backwards; which means its English title will probably be ‘Tsohg.’ This method of inverting a word or its syllables is described as tadbalik, & is used to create new Pinoy slang that will often be used by the hippest of youths. The problem is no one really says ‘otlum’ unless they’re referring to the movie or saying it ironically like what my cousin & I have been doing for the past few weeks. It reeks of trying to make ‘fetch’ happen. It’s not cool & it’s never gonna happen.

The same can be said for the popular clique at the center of this lackluster horror movie. Outside of their conventional beauty, the film doesn’t offer any compelling reason why people admire them at all. All of them are bland, amorphous cutouts whose sole characteristic is defined by their ties to the group, & they all talk like they were written by an adult trying & failing to capture how today’s youth talk & feel. Instead, it goes for the easy route of having them awkardly drop the word ‘hashtag’ in conversations & sigh explain what an ‘otlum’ is.

At least one part of the problem makes sense, since their connections aren’t formed by warmth or affection. They are basically a part of a fraternity founded by a smug asshole played by Jerome Ponce, where the only way to enter is through a series of punishing, embarrassing tests; one of them had to drink everyone else’s urine in order to be accepted to the group. He lords over everyone with his strict rules & his demand for absolute devotion to their brotherhood, & the rest of the group is chafing under his restrictions beneath their happy facade. It’s not allowed to date anyone within the group, yet there’s already a man & a woman hiding their romantic status from everyone. It doesn’t help one of the boys has a crush with the same woman, and he’s starting to suspect the truth behind the couple. One of them even starts questioning their humiliating rituals to enter their group. It’s unclear what they get out of the group but they’re still sticking it out for some reason; even if it makes them all slightly miserable.

This doesn’t stop Fred (Buboy Villar) from trying to force his way into the group. He doesn’t have anyone except for a distant mother (Irma Adlawan) who only bothers him for money he earns from repairing appliances, & a so-called friend (Kiray Celis) who always berates him whenever he’s around, so his need to befriend them is a somewhat understandable and completely misguided attempt at making connections. He becomes so desparate that at one point he bribes their affection with free food & drinks. Most of them have no intention in including him in the group, yet they continue to harass him as part of his “initiation.” As part of his final test, Fred has to stay inside an abandoned orphanage with a disturbing past for the whole night. When he finds out that they never intend to include him in the group anyway, he vows to take revenge. He kills himself & haunts them one by one with the help of a young ghost lurking in the same orphanage. Whatever fraught bonds the group has becomes even shakier. Some of them consult a paranormal investigator (John Estrada) to help them fight against Fred & his cohort. However, even the paranormal investigator himself has a grim past with the orphanage & now he is forced to face them in order to save the rest of the group.

It’s so hard to care about what happens though. Besides the awful dialogue & half-baked motivations from almost everyone, it’s just a nasty, boring slog of a movie. Outside of Fred, which is the film’s most sympathetic character, it’s a head-on plunge into awful human behavior without the wit, insight, or even a believable piece of humanity to make it bearable. This makes it harder to care for the group, which means there’s no tension when Fred starts terrorizing them. It also doesn’t help that its scares are done at a bare minimum, with nary a hint of inspiration or effort done to them. They feel so lifeless, like it’s an obligation for the film to deliver something scary when it doesn’t seem interested in doing so. Seeing a ghost run out of nowhere in plain sight doesn’t constitute a scare, nor does it grip anyone into thinking that something bad might happen to anyone.

It does have some of the best visuals for MMFF 2018, which is shocking considering the dire material. While none of it is mind-blowing, Jun Dalawis & Teejay Gonzales uses a ton of close-ups & medium shots that capture the insular, alienating world of the popular group & Fred’s forlorn existence. There’s a care & craft here that just couldn’t be seen on the script. This can be found in its best scene: Fred crying alone in his workspace after he was ditched by the popular clique, left drenched in the rain while wearing a formal suit. It’s framed by simple static shots that often obscure his face, with Buboy Villar finally revealing the totality of his anguish & disillusionment. It taps into what could’ve been a nuanced, acidic horror film about the toxic nature of fraternities & what makes them so attractive to people like Fred.

Instead, what we get is a rote horror movie filled with dumb, underwritten characters that’s hard to care for. At the very least, it is only 75 minutes long, so this isn’t as punishing as it should be. If only the film tried even harder to be good as much as it tried to sound cool, we could’ve gotten something more substantial.

Advertisements

Movie Review: To Love Some Buddy is the Jolt Pinoy Rom-Coms Need Right Now

TL:DR: While To Love Some Buddy isn’t immune to the usual flaws of romantic comedies, it’s fresh, invigorating take on a staid premise.

One of the best things about the rise of hugot culture is it emboldened filmmakers to probe the intricacies of love & romance in an unpretentious manner – which centers almost entirely on heterosexual couples – without shying away from the pain & sorrow that often accompanies it through a simple aesthetic: heavy emphasis on grounded storytelling peppered with wit & melancholy. It completely reinvented the style & language of Filipino romantic comedies, resulting in a number of massively successful, critically acclaimed films like the recent Exes Baggage. However, this drive towards emotional authenticity caused the genre to lose their sense of breezy fun. It’s not a bad thing, since there has to be room for small, personal stories in our theaters, and it’s not like the genre turned into a humorless slog. But aside from a few exceptions, the genre became too tethered to our own reality, losing the vibrance the genre is known for.

That’s why To Love Some Buddy immediately stands out. It’s the jolt the genre needs right now, using a classic romantic comedy premise without losing what made the current crop of Filipino romantic comedies special. Faith (Maja Salvador) is suddenly reunited with her old college classmate Julius (Zanjoe Marudo) after she accidentally sent him a nude photo intended for her boyfriend. Their tense, awkward reunion becomes less so once Faith finds out he’s a skilled piano player who composes songs for his brother, a young singer on the verge of breaking out. Both of them quickly become best friends who love to goof around & support each other without any judgment whenever they’re stressed from their jobs & families. Zanjoe Marudo & Maja Salvador build a friendly, playful rapport that makes it easy to buy into their close bond; it will be familiar to anyone who gets pinched a lot by their best friend as a form of light teasing. It’s the kind of friendship that’s become too attached & insular their friends are starting to ask questions if they are dating.

Julius even proposes the idea of dating each other to Faith. Faith is concerned this might ruin their relationship, but Julius naively assures her this wouldn’t affect their friendship in any way & they could go back to being friends when it doesn’t work out. Faith agrees & the two of them are officially a couple. This decision alone puts To Love Some Buddy ahead most romantic comedies, since it doesn’t waste its time ruminating what might happen if two best friends start dating each other. Instead, it jumps right in, affording Jason Paul Laxamana an opportuniy to show how the couple’s expectations on their relationship have changed & the difficulty in adjusting to their new dynamic. It’s a fresh, insightful take on an old dilemma, & this alone would put the film neatly alongside other great Filipino romantic comedies made today.

However, Laxamana takes this premise & infuses the film with an edgy, impish playfulness he’s known for & adding levity rarely seen on romantic comedies of its ilk. It loves to pull the rug on the audience by throwing in twists that liven up the film. It isn’t afraid to go for broke either. The film has a cartoonish sense of humor backed up by strong, gorgeous visuals which gives a simple crass joke or any of its observational humor targeting certain aspects of Filipino culture the extra oomph it needs to get a bigger laugh. It even indulges in a wacky dream sequence where Faith’s jealousy gives way to an outrageous brawl. Not all of the jokes work, since there’s a sense it tries too hard to grab your attention, but it never becomes distracting that it drags the film down.

This makes it easier to swallow Faith & Julius’ antics, as their endearing flaws become unpleasant & blown up immensely. Maja Salvador’s Faith has a few similarities with her role as Carson from I’m Drunk, I Love You: she is loud, funny, & neurotic. However, Faith has more confidence & ambition than Carson, even if the career she ended up with isn’t what she planned, & Salvador gives Faith a nervous edge that can turn chilly in a flash. Zanjoe Marudo’s Julius is stubborn & comfortable on his own skin, unwilling to work on any gig that he fears will compromise his artistic integrity. Marudo doesn’t turn Julius into a slacker, & you can see him putting up with Faith’s demands until he explodes completely. It also helps that Marudo & Salvador are completely captivating in their roles & the film doesn’t let us forget the reasons for their admittedly human impulses. Even Phoebe Walker gets dragged in their fights as one of Julius’ exes who becomes his own sounding board for his problems with Faith. She stands out not just because this is one of her rare roles where she’s not sexualized, but she’s a warm presence throughout in the film who’s unwilling to tolerate Julius’ flaws; someone please give her a lead in a romantic comedy.

It’s not prone to the frequent weaknesses of the genre. The way it handles its third act is too pat, even if it is handled more smoothly thanks to Marudo & Salvador portraying their maturity that happened offscreen. It also attempts to rationalize toxic monogamy by positing that jealousy is something that should be tolerated in couples because it’s the only way to keep a relationship afloat. Regardless, To Love Some Buddy bridges the gap between the wacky hijinx that’s gone out of vogue in recent years & the sharp, insightful musings on love that has become the new standard of Filipino romantic comedies to create something novel & invigorating. Hopefully, more filmmakers take note & build off from its execution & push the genre into more exciting places.

Movie Review: BuyBust is a Politically Biting Landmark of Filipino Action Cinema

TL;DR: BuyBust raises the bar for Filipino action filmmaking by offering intense, technically exceptional bouts of action amidst its scathing critique of Duterte’s drug war.

Throughout the years, Erik Matti has garnered critical acclaim & built a passionate audience by taking genre films with the broadest possible appeal, executing it with precision & finesse, & infusing them with his unmistakably Filipino touches that combine quirk & cynicism in fascinating ways; controversies & low box-office sales be damned. BuyBust might be the purest distillation of his work, not only delivering on its promise of non-stop action, but also smuggling a trenchant critique of Duterte’s drug war.

Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis) is a skilled member of the local anti-drug task force. She rarely takes orders from her superiors ever since she found a clue leading her to believe someone in the organization double-crossed them, causing the deaths of her previous squad members. Because of this, she gained a reputation for being stubborn, which wasn’t a huge problem to her current squad leader Bernie Lacson (Victor Neri), who’s commanding a team for the first time. Along with the rest of their team – which includes the kind, gigantic brute Rico Yatco (Brandon Vera), nervous rookie Gelo Elia (AJ Muhlach), Bernie’s wife Alda Lacson (Sheen Gener), & two other squad members with no distinct personas/roles Loren Santos (Mara Lopez) & Iggy Hizon (Tarek El Tayecch) – they are tasked to pull off a drug bust to lure the notorious drug lord Biggie Chen out in the open, using the mid-level drug pusher Teban (Alex Calleja) as bait.

BuyBust Still Set 1

Everything is proceeding as planned when Biggie Chen decided to move the transaction within the slums of Gracia de Maria. Once inside, Biggie Chen reveals he knew about the drug bust & has trapped Nina, Bernie & the rest of the squad within its labyrinthine alleys, allowing Biggie Chen’s goons & associates to hunt them down in his own territory. While most citizens of Gracia de Maria are trying to avoid the crossfire, a deeply religious man named Solomon (Ricky Pascua) is different. He’s still grieving the death of his daughter who died in one of the anti-drug operations when an old relative of his was used as leverage & killed point blank in front of him, inspiring him & other residents of Gracia de Maria to fight back against Biggie Chen & the anti-drug task force, who put their lives in a constant state of fear & dread.

It does take a while for the violence to erupt. The film takes its time to lay out its conceit, setting up its thinly written archetypes disguised as characters as they covertly traverse Gracia de Maria without getting caught, putting us in their limited vantage point. It allows Erik Matti to show off his knack of cranking up the pressure without a single confrontation.

But once Biggie Chen’s goons starts firing at the anti-drug agents, the film erupts into a relentless onslaught of violence, to the point that it becomes exhausting & slightly repetitive. That’s by design, as Erik Matti is depicting the perpetual cycle of violence & devastation at the heart of Duterte’s deadly, ineffectual drug war in an enclosed battle royale. It’s filled to the brim with visceral, thrilling setpieces that leave everyone into a brutal, bloody pulp – making you feel every punch, stab, & gunshot thrown by those fighting for their lives – but it never forgets the resulting death & destruction left in its wake. The fact this happens on an isolated compound in the slums isn’t lost on the film either. The cramped, confined spaces emphasize the desperation & helplessness of the poor, who already have to contend with previous administrations’ failure to address our country’s poverty now finding themselves in the middle of a crossfire that rarely leaves their neighborhood. Add Philippines’ ongoing problems with corruption & police impunity & you’ve got a government policy that is not only useless, but also cruel & exploitative.

BuyBust Still Set 2

What makes it more fascinating are the actors they chose to headline the film. Anne Curtis has had an eclectic resume in the past few years – this year alone she also starred in atypically caustic romantic comedy Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story) & the upcoming sci-fi horror film Aurora – & this film shows off her versatility as an actress. She may be small, but she’s a swift, ferocious fighter who dispatches her opponents quickly. She also gives Nina Manigan a convincing cynicism that the script couldn’t provide. Brandon Vera is awkward as Nina’s calmer, superstitious, more reasonable partner Rico when they’re bonding amidst the chaos, but that’s not the reason he was cast in the film anyway. Being a professional fighter in real life & pretending to fight a crowd for a movie are both different skills, & BuyBust proves he excels at both. The muscular body he gained as a mixed martial artist provides a stark contrast to the rest of the cast & it’s put to good use as he uses his sheer force to pummel through his enemies. Erik Matti & fight choreographer Sonny Sison both use their cast’s build to stage memorable fight scenes, which keeps the action novel & thrilling throughout its runtime. It is Erik Matti’s finest achievement, or at the very least his most technically accomplished film. One of the highlights is a bravura single take of Anne Curtis giving her all as she bashes her opponents in & out of the alleys & into the rooftops as she fights off an angry crowd.

But regardless of their survival, the drug-related killings will continue to persist unless people are willing to fight against a corrupt, inhumane system that allowed it to flourish. It’s not impossible. BuyBust offers some form of hope, which is surprising for a politically relevant Erik Matti film, but it comes at a cost; whether it be the numerous lives that we have lost during Duterte’s administration, our complicity to allow it happen, or those who sat willingly on the sidelines. We might be able to change the system, but none of us are going to come out of it unscathed.

buyBustJudge

Movie Review: Kusina Kings May Be Undercooked, But Will Fill You With Laughter

TL;DR: Kusina Kings (Kitchen Kings) is heavily flawed, but it succeeds just by being funny.

Victor Villenueva’s follow-up to the sweet Cebuano dark comedy Patay na si Hesus (Jesus is Dead) & his first film for a mainstream studio is sadly a disappointment. It suffers from a lot of problems that for some reason plague most Filipino mainstream comedies. And yet, Kusina Kings (Kitchen Kings) plows through all of these problems by being flat out funny.

kusinaKingsWaiting

Its premise is way too complicated than its trailers let on. Benjie (Empoy Marquez) realizes his dream of opening a restaurant with the help of his longtime best friend Ronnie (Zanjoe Marudo). Unfortunately, no one patronizes their business & soon find themselves scrambling their way out of bankruptcy. Benjie joins the Kusina Kings challenge out of desperation, where he can fight renowned chef & restaurateur Gian Nyeam (Ryan Bang) for money & glory. However, if Benjie loses, he has to forfeit his restaurant to Gian. Even Benjie’s sister Jenny (Nathalie Hart) returns to help out but her lack of cooking skills & experience in restaurant management causes more harm than good. Meanwhile, Ronnie invests most of their money in a fraudulent pyramid scheme thinking it will help the restaurant. Benjie is furious after he found out what Ronnie did & they both get into a huge fight that ends with Ronnie walking out of the restaurant. In the middle of all of this,

On his way back to the restaurant, Ronnie catches a cockroach that stuck to him & unknowingly flings it inside the restaurant. It causes a huge commotion that leaves Benjie in a coma after a refrigerator lands on his head. Injured & hospitalized, Benjie’s soul is now stuck in limbo, and the only way for him to return to his body is to literally take care of his unfinished business & ensure that they won’t lose the Kusina Kings challenge. He can’t do it on his own – since he is a literal soul – so he enlists the help of Ronnie, even if he’s still mad at him, disapproves of his total disregard for following the recipe & loathes his attraction to Jenny. Ronnie partly does it out of guilt for causing Benjie & Jenny so much trouble & it won’t take long for them to find out what really happened.

kusinaKingsGrasp

There’s so much stuff going on in the film as it piles contrived situations to put its characters in its setup that the clumsy plotting feels like a bunch of ideas smushed together. There are some attempts at giving both Benjie & Ronnie their own arcs, but it’s shoved aside in favor of focusing on their main goal to rescue the restaurant. Its attempts at slapstick humor whenever Empoy Marquez forcibly moves Zanjoe Marudo’s body doesn’t work because both are just too stiff & awkward to pull it off. Add the fact that it sometimes succumbs to lazy joke writing by substituting pop culture references for punchlines & overexplaining jokes, & the end result is a mediocre effort from one of the most promising film directors working today.

However, there’s no reason to doubt Villenueva’s talents & instincts as a director, because once it settles down into a rhythm, the loose, ridiculous plot becomes a vessel for a barrage of inspired silliness & endearingly dumb dirty jokes. It’s a live-action cartoon full of absurd gags & daffy wordplay, tossing it to the audience as fast as it could while often badly explaining what the joke was. The dirty jokes are achingly sincere & childish in nature, it’s easier to embrace them even if some of these are more likely to induce an eyeroll rather than a laugh. Everyone in the cast carries the material they’re working with & clearly having a blast, which translates to the film’s warm, lighthearted vibe. It’s definitely a flawed film, but comedies are supposed to make you laugh & this one definitely did the trick. Sometimes that’s enough.

kusinaKingsSEXSEXSEXSEX

Movie Review: JoshLia & Kris Aquino Liven Up I Love You, Hater’s Gimmicks

TL;DR: I Love You, Hater is a creaky, sweaty, but sweet romantic farce livened up by Joshua Garcia, Julia Barretto & Kris Aquino.

Fittingly for a sweet romantic farce, I Love You, Hater upholds truth & authenticity as the basis of one’s character as it comments on how these values are blurred in the modern world, which makes it ironic that it’s Star Cinema’s latest romantic comedy. The studio’s light, glossy offerings are enjoyable & primed to deliver the kilig audiences crave, but they’re often formulaic to a fault & the level of artifice surrounding these films turn them into mechanical & soulless products that makes it hard for me to fully embrace. While I Love You, Hater doesn’t avoid this problem completely, it delivers a fun film that gives everything audiences expect, while providing more depth that manages to pierce through the artifice.

Just like most farces, it begins with a couple of lies. Joko (Joshua Garcia) was tricked by an illegal recruiter who promised him a high-paying job in New York, but ditched him with his money in tow. He doesn’t want to go home empty-handed, especially since they need to pay off their huge debt, so he decides to stay in Metro Manila to work on a couple of odd jobs, stay in the apartment where his gay cousin & his boyfriend live, & pretend that he’s actually in New York. As the hidden, illegitimate daughter of a reputable lawyer, Zoey’s existence is a lie. Played by Julia Barretto, she is a smart, ambitious woman who pines for his father’s affections, fueled with the desire to achieve something huge for herself.

Both of them get a chance to uplift themselves when Sasha Imperial (Kris Aquino), a famous social media mogul who inspires others to live out their best selves while advertising products to her audience heavily inspired by the real Kris Aquino, needs a new assistant. Zoey is a huge fan of Sasha, & she quickly seizes on the opportunity to apply for her dream job. Joko was applying for a different job opening when he unwittingly ends up getting the job as Sasha’s assistant due to his knowledge of graphic design. When this news reaches Zoey, she protests since she thinks she’s more capable than him at the job & he’s not part of Sasha’s core demographic: women & gays. Not wanting to miss out on a high-paying job with numerous benefits & allowances, Joko lies & tells everyone that he’s actually gay. Faced with two highly qualified applicants, Sasha decides that they will both compete for the job. It’ll be hard for him to keep up the ruse, since he’s straight & has fallen in love with Zoey.

That’s a lot of story to get through, & unfortunately the film doesn’t have a tight handle with its plotting or themes. It tries to build a wacky setup for hijinks to ensue, flesh out the main trio, develop Joko & Zoey’s budding romance & explore how truth & lies affect everyone, which is ambitious, but the film suffocates underneath all of this weight. The plotting is creaky, forced & needlessly complicated at times, which is a consequence of its convoluted setup. This is more apparent in the first half, where the characters are pushed into ridiculous scenarios & it never feels natural; which, as already mentioned, is just ironic. It’s also hard to ignore how sweaty the story moves, which isn’t ideal for a farce.

It also doesn’t spend time fully diving into the nuances of its premise, preferring to just ground it all within the confines of the farce & continuously outlining that honesty is the best policy. It’s understandable, considering how bloated this whole movie is, but there’s so much more that needs to be explored it’s disappointing it took this route. It even affects the film’s final act, as it skips out on something messier in favor of following what the formula dictates.

But damn, if that doesn’t make the movie less fun to watch. While Joko & Zoey are shoved into tired & hacky scenarios, Joshua Garcia & Juila Barretto continue to prove their strengths as a love team by livening up the film with their entertaining performances & irresistible romantic chemistry. It’s more obvious once the film moves away from the farce & allow Zoey & Joko to be themselves. It also sidesteps its problematic premise by deriving humor out of Joko trying his best not to blow his cover & pretending he’s not in love with his rival, instead of emphasizing his “gayness” by vamping & lisping his way to a job; but there is a scene where Joko is harassed in a gay bar that’s played for a quick laugh that’s just awful.

Kris Aquino is unsurprisingly great playing a version of herself, but she’s not just stuck spewing out inspirational quotes & underlining the film’s themes. Sasha has her own arc about her senile father & while it drags the film’s pacing, it grounds Sasha as a character & gives Kris Aquino a dramatic arc to shine. Whatever convoluted mess the film is buried in, I Love You, Hater warmth manages to break through. You just have to put up with its gimmick to get there.

Movie Review: Cry No Fear’s Trashy Thrills Can’t Make Up For How Witless & Misogynist It Is

TL;DR: Cry No Fear may suck you in with its gorgeous visuals & dreary atmosphere, but it lacks the wit & creativity to deliver the thrills & the misogyny in display is just icky.

There’s something noble about releasing Cry No Fear in the current Filipino film landscape; which is ironic since it’s a Filipino-produced home-invasion thriller that plays like a tamer version of a stylish, modern exploitation film. There are few spaces for adult-oriented fare in our cinemas, even moreso if it’s locally made. Local studios are already adamant about getting the dreaded R-18 rating due to a combination of draconian business practices & a puritanical movie ratings board. While a bunch of microcinemas have popped up that could theoretically build an audience for midnight movies – especially Cinema Centenario who has been doing midnight screenings – they’re still young & so far have only focused expanding in Metro Manila. It’s too bad, since there is value in making violent, depraved films that appeal to our basest desires; either for our entertainment or as a way of exploring them onscreen. Unfortunately Cry No Fear doesn’t make the best case for it.

Wendy (Ella Cruz) & Kaycee (Donnalyn Bartolome) are two stepsisters who can’t stand each other. Kaycee frequently bullies Wendy because she’s angry her father (Lito Pimentel) remarried after her mother’s death; which brought Wendy into their family. Wendy isn’t going to tolerate Kaycee’s hurtful remarks, so she fights back with insults of her own. Their hatred for each other pushed them to the point that they want to kill each other. This doesn’t go unnoticed by their father, who wants their heated feud to stop so badly that at one point he spanks both of them in front of their housemaid (Sheree). It’s too bad that their father has to leave them for a couple of days for an acting gig, since tensions are higher than ever. Not too mention there’s a strong typhoon heading their way that promises continuous rainfall in the coming days, & there are reports that a group of poor thieves have exploited the situation by robbing houses in high-end subdivisions. Their house becomes a target, and they’re slowly harassed until they’re attacked inside the house. The only way for them to survive is to settle aside their differences & work together.

cryNoFearKnife

Make no mistake, Cry No Fear is a dark movie, literally & figuratively. This is a grim, oppressive movie where every person is a vessel to receive or inflict physical or emotional violence, either out of malice or survival, & the only way to escape is to outwit your enemy long enough before you fight back. If you want to know where its priorities lie, the subtext of a class war between the stepsisters & the thieves are shoved aside for cheap, visceral thrills; which is a fine but disappointing choice. There are times when the movie borders on humorless, but its inability to forget its pulpy premise never lets it become too dour. It’s heightened enough that makes it easier to swallow the ridiculous, noxious bile it spits out.

It isn’t graphically violent though, nor does it need to be. It lets the loud sound design evoke disgust & shock from whatever damage they inflict on anyone. Besides, the movie is more concerned in showing how people react to the violence. They scream, they run, they stalk, & they resist just to survive their horrible ordeal. It’s also covered in darkness & drenched in heavy rain & mud, which creates an overbearing feeling of dread that’s hard to shake. Add the film’s gorgeous low-light cinematography creating haunting visuals amidst the carnage & you have a stylish feast that never loses its nasty core.

cryNoFearBag

That nastiness takes a wrong turn though, thanks to its misogynist streak; which is sadly fitting for its inspirations. The male gaze is alive & well here, leering at Cruz & Bartolome’s bodies that remove their agency. They are also tied up & gagged, which is expected for a home-invasion thriller like this one, but it takes a horrible turn once the one of the thieves starts sexually assaulting them. The film isn’t even attempting to analyze this impulse nor its effects on women. The fact that both stepsisters are underwritten & objectified by the camera just makes it even more disgusting. At this point, they’re nothing but empty shells the audience gets off on.

It doesn’t help the whole movie is in dire need of wit & imagination. The feud between the stepsisters is shallow, devolving into both of them yelling ‘Bitch’ at each other after tossing lame insults, like “Bitchy Witchy.” The reasons behind the feud are half-baked, because the characters themselves are half-baked. That extends to everyone in the movie. No one here moves outside of their stock character. This could still work, except the whole movie is sunk by its awful, clunky dialogue. It hurts Ella Cruz & Donnalynn Bartolome the most, since they’re tasked to deliver either cumbersome exposition or dumb, catty dialogue that they couldn’t overcome. It fares better when everyone is engaging in a deadly game of hide-and-seek, but some sequences drag out for too long without moving beyond hitting each other senselessly, or become too ridiculous for its overly serious approach. It’s disappointing that Cry No Fear ends up wasting its bleak atmosphere with a lack of ingenuity, because it could’ve been the breath of fresh air we needed. Instead, it embraces the worst parts of its trashy material without fully exploiting it.

cryNoFearTarzan

Movie Review: The Write Moment is a Clever, If Slight Exploration of Pinoy Rom-Coms

TL;DR: The Write Moment is a goofy, enjoyable riff on romantic comedies that doesn’t explore the darkness of its premise.

Releasing The Write Moment in the current climate feels perfect. Audiences are more savvy about the established formula of hugot romantic comedies, & are more willing to watch romantic films that are more introspective & mature than the usual fluffy fare, which means now would be the perfect time to release a film that explores the genre’s tropes. While The Write Moment aims to riff on this beloved genre & examine our attraction to it, it fails to live up to its expectations.

Dave (Jerald Napoles) is a wedding videographer who aspires to be a writer. After his longtime girlfriend Joyce (Valeen Montenegro) dumped him, he tries his best to woo her back, which includes writing a hugot romantic comedy. Due to unknown reasons, he’s forced to live out the script he wrote verbatim, or else he’ll be stuck in an endless time loop.

It’s a film that positions itself between the cheery romantic comedies people are familiar with & the more thoughtful romantic dramas that have become popular nowadays. It’s a goofy, Groundhog Day-esque riff to explore the artifice of romantic comedies & how Dave’s inability to move on becomes a literal force he has to reckon with. His hacky script is unrealistic with how humans are supposed to interact, so now he has to find a way to achieve what’s written in order to move forward.

It’s a clever & playful conceit with troubling implications & it’s disappointing The Write Moment doesn’t explore them. There’s a darker movie to be made here about Dave’s selfish impulses & this magical scenario has put him in control of other people’s lives, but the film chooses to elide this in favor of a story about moving on from a break-up. It’s still an enjoyable romantic comedy that never loses its charms until the end, & both Jerald Napoles & Valeen Montenegro prove they both deserve to break out of supporting roles they’re usually given, but the whole movie ends up feeling more modest than it should’ve. The Write Moment may have come at the right time, but it doesn’t take advantage of it.

 

theWriteMomentLetMeGo