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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Movie Review: Fun, Trashy Sin Island Just Wants to Get Your Blood Pumping

TL;DR: Sin Island may be dumb & ridiculous, but that’s only part of what makes this sexy, trashy erotic thriller so much fun.

It’s still shocking to think that Star Cinema would release Sin Island as their Valentines’ Day offering. Instead of a lighthearted romantic comedy, they decided to bankroll on something darker & sexier; it’s their first sexually charged movie since Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya (The Man in Selya’s Life) released in 1997. While we could only theorize the reasons behind this move as either influenced by the success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, an act of commendable risk-taking, losing out on a bad bet, or something else entirely, this is a laudable effort that doesn’t prepare you to how trashy it’s going to be.

David (Xian Lim) is a passionate photographer who found success shooting magazine covers & weddings. He’s married to a flight attendant named Kanika (Colleen Garcia), & both of them have a loving, passionate marriage. But when he’s forced to close his business due to his assistant’s mistake, he spirals toward despondency & loses his self-esteem that goes on for two years. Meanwhile, Kanika is becoming more attracted to Stephen (TJ Trinidad), one of the pilots she’s working with. It’s obvious that Stephen feels the same way, but it’s only physical & she never crosses the line; even if her best friend goads her about it. David figures this out & they have a huge fight. At the request of his friend, he decides to go on an exclusive resort on Sinilaban Island; or Sin Island as it’s also called. That’s where he meets Tasha (Natalie Hart), a broken-hearted swimsuit designer who decided to take a break when her husband cheated on her. Both of them had an awkward start, but once they slowly get to know each other, it sets off a series of events that will endanger his current marriage, & their lives.

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Let’s circle back to the inciting incident that caused David to ruin his life. His assistant carelessly put a bag containing all of their SD cards they used for the wedding beside the fountain, which was subsequently kicked by a kid into the water while the assistant was taking a picture. They couldn’t recover any of the images in the SD cards. The client sued them for ₱ 10 million. His brother, who’s also a lawyer, tells him he has no choice but to take the deal. The incident caused him to lose all of his clients, compelling him to close his business.

The movie asks us to believe that a man like David, who runs a successful wedding photography service, did not have any emergency contingencies just in case something like this would happen. It also asks us to believe that his supposedly skilled brother couldn’t find a way to retaliate against the couple or lessen its impact on the business. Finally, it also thinks that this sole incident will cause David to lose his clients. This is just a taste of how unbelievably stupid this whole movie is going to be. It has lots of moments where people are acting like incompetent idiots so the movie can reach its next plot point, or the supporting characters encouraging the leads’ bad behavior & castigating them for following their advice to create conflict without probing the reasons behind it. It also embraces toxic monogamy culture in the way it explores a spouse’s attraction to people who aren’t their partners & the jealousy that results from it without examining the behavior nor its effects on a relationship.

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That’s fine, since it’s the furthest thing from the movie’s mind; & the only thing it has on its mind is a pulsating id. Star Cinema & director Gino M. Santos made a melodrama focused on infidelity with flashes of camp that turns into a trashy erotic thriller, that feeds on our insatiable desire to watch conventionally attractive people with gorgeously toned bodies to fight & fuck each other out of love – often in ridiculous ways – with the high production values that’s expected from the studio. It’s a very racy film oozing with sex, violence & style, presenting it without any shame, & maximized to titillate audiences without going over the R-16 rating; which include the torrid sex scenes that spreads the pleasure & objectification to both sexes & a “cheat day” discussion with Stephen that ends with him eating a mussel while Kanika & him exchange sordid looks as David realizes what is happening. While it focuses solely on the internal struggles of David & Kanika’s marriage without blaming it on their sex life, it’s not above embracing the tropes of the genre; which are often problematic & clichéd. That’s only part of the charm, since the movie dives headfirst into it with gleeful relish.

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You can even see it from everyone in the cast. Xian Lim may be lackluster when he deals with David’s downward spiral, but he works best when he’s embracing the movie’s sleazy tone. Colleen Garcia reveals the depth of Kanika’s sadness & disappointment to David, & she gets a chance to join in the movie’s shenanigans too. But the center of the movie’s jagged, seedy heart is, well, Nathalie Hart. She is funny, charismatic, & sexy, using her charm to hide her cunning, nutty self. She will try her best to hide it, but once the facade drops, she will snarl, seduce, or strike anyone if it will help her get what she wants.

But what elevates this to something special are the stylish visuals shot by Mycko David & the spot-on production design by Aimi Geraldine R. Gamboa. The sets switch from extravagant to intimate without toning down the movie’s excesses. Mycko David spruces it up with low-key cinematography that relies on fewer light sources that often cast shadows on the actors’ faces, or backlighting the actors to turn them into silhouettes, creating a sense of mystery & danger that boils under the surface until it explodes in the third act. He also captures every knowing look, sensuous touch & deep moan within the constraints of its movie rating. It just emphasizes how much of the movie’s pleasure are skin-deep, which is fitting for a movie filled with naked bodies. While there are trashier movies out there, that doesn’t make this any less fun. It’s completely upfront to what it is & executes it with such style, it’s hard to resent it. It only wants to please your primal instincts, & if you give it a chance, there’s a chance you couldn’t resist its charms.

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