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.

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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.

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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.

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Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017: 100 Tula Para Kay Stella is a Messy & Heartbreaking Journey Worth Taking

TL;DR At its best, 100 Tula Para Kay Stella (100 Poems for Stella) is a sprawling, heartbreaking movie that captures the messiness of life by being messy itself.

Realizing you’ve fallen in love with someone for the first time can fill you with equal amounts of dread & joy. Suddenly, the world opens up to you, your head full of endless possibilities. But you only have two options on how to proceed: reveal your feelings at the risk of getting rejected or stay silent to retain the status quo.

Fidel (JC Santos) finds himself in a similar position. He’s a freshman college student who loves to write poetry & studies BS Psychology in Pampanga during 2004. He’s a stutterer; he can only speak normally if he’s reading the words as he talks, sings, or uses only three words when he talks. Due to a mishap during Freshies Night that caused him to have a ketchup stain on his pants, he decides to stay out of the event. That is until an aspiring rock star named Stella (Bela Padilla) approaches him & loans her jacket to cover up his stain. Their friendship begins, with Fidel slowly falling in love with Stella due to her kindness & confidence. She becomes his muse for his poetry, & he decides to give her all of the poems as a declaration of his love for her. However, Stella has a boyfriend, so he decides to withhold his plans & continue writing about her. Soon, their lives will take numerous turns, with Fidel moving to Manila to continue his studies, while Stella doing everything she can to become a successful musician.

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Both of them will meet new people, learn new things about themselves, & their relationships with others will improve & deteriorate. The movie leans on this aspect, creating a sprawling, intimate epic where our current situation, wrong timing, missed opportunities, & events beyond our control hamper our ability to achieve what we want in life, how it affects the way we perceive others & what happens when it’s out of reach.

It’s even one of the few period pieces set during the last decade, using it to explore the decade’s Pinoy music scene through Stella’s dreams of becoming a famous rock star. It’s a time where there was a boom in OPM (Original Pinoy Music), thanks to the continued popularity of Kitchie Nadal & Rivermaya, the rise of new bands like Itchyworms, & the success of novelty acts like Masculados & Sexbomb Girls.

And there are also the poems Fidel writes for Stella, which the movie uses to track Fidel’s writing ability & how his feelings for Stella continue to grow, even if how he views her doesn’t match the actual reality. There’s always a risk in showing someone’s creative work in film, since the audience has to believe what the movie thinks of a character’s work of art. Thankfully, the movie starts with Fidel writing terrible poems & the movie is aware of its quality. Throughout the movie, we see his poems start getting better, & while none of them are excellent, they do turn into something good.

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It amounts to an ambitious, bittersweet movie about growing up & at its best moments, it succeeds in capturing the messiness of life by being messy & overstuffed itself.  At its worst, the plot & the characters are undercooked, since it’s rushing to tell its ginormous plot; especially during its third act. Even at two hours, one wishes the movie had time to breathe, since it takes shortcuts by telling us what happened, instead of showing it to us. It also could’ve used more time to explore Fidel’s Nice Guy behavior, like berating Stella for ignoring her studies for band practice – which has her boyfriend as one of its members – when it’s clear it’s partly self-motivated.

Still, the movie is anchored by great performances from JC Santos & Bela Padilla, who hold the whole movie together. JC Santos is endearing & charismatic as Fidel, & he softens Fidel’s Nice Guy behavior; often to a fault. The real standout is Bela Padilla, who plays Stella as a tough, confident, frustrated woman weighed down by her family & dreams, & she gives life to her victories & failures fully. It’s easier to see both of them as friends compared to an actual couple, but that is part of the point.

In the end, 100 Tula Para Kay Stella (100 Poems for Stella) falls short from its ambitions, but it’s hard to look away from the long-winding journey both characters take. It may have started because a man fell in love with a woman, but it expands to reveal the sadness at its very core. Because no matter how you feel about someone, it doesn’t always work out the way you want. And as the movie posits, that’s fine.

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