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.
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.
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.