Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza, 2009)

This is no ordinary Brillante Ma. Mendoza film.

Vividly colored snippets of people doing their routine morning chores. Friendly game of basketball among the young men. Tween girls running an errand. A cook cutting a chicken into pieces. Happy portrait of a couple with their cute boy.

Is this really a Brillante Mendoza film?

Employing an Alfred Hitchcock's trick in Rear Window, the Mendoza film lures the audience into the blissful, carefree world of Peping (Coco Martin), a soon-to-be-married criminology student. The beautifully-lensed daytime segment takes a voyeuristic peek into the activities of Peping's neighbors. This segment will soon segue into a cheesy interlude onboard a jeepney and ultimately culminating in the joyous wedding celebrations. However, the daytime segment ends with an ominous shot of a red-tinged sunset.

Night falls and we see Peping running an errand for a criminal syndicate headed by rogue cops. His friend Abyong (Jhong Hilario) later convinces him to join an operation. They catch up with their colleagues inside a family van. A prostitute named Madonna (Ma. Isabel Lopez) becomes the last rider to hop onboard.

What follows is a Stygian journey into the pits of hell. Peping didn't expect anyone to receive any kind of beating. When the gang members start gagging Madonna and tying up her hands, Peping helplessly looks on. Sarge (John Regala) slaps and kicks the prostitute. The muffled cries of Madonna eventually die down. A shocked Peping can't believe the events transpiring before him. Even if he wanted to leave, he knows he can't get pass through the tight-guarding Cerberus-like trio near the van's door.

Scriptwriter Armando 'Bing' Lao provides a solid depiction of Peping's slow descent into the heart of darkness. After the group unloads the unconscious prostitute in a house, Peping contemplates on ditching the group. Escape is not an easy option, though. The group members are mostly cops-turned-hardened criminals and he is just a student. They won't hesitate to kill him. The crooked police captain (Julio Diaz) drags Peping further down the abyss by giving him a gun. The lure of power clouds the student's judgment. Soon, he is fetching sacks that will be used in the disposal of Madonna's chopped-up body parts.

The claustrophobic trip back to the city is equally hellish for Peping. Madonna fails to pay the required money and is soon thrown, limb by limb, out of the vehicle. The stench of the rape-slay crime overcomes Peping. He vomits and realizes that he has reneged on his school oath. He can never get back the much-desired integrity.

This is no ordinary Brillante Mendoza film.

Kinatay is the most terrifying film made by Mendoza so far. To horror fans out there who have never seen a movie by Brillante Mendoza, now is the right time to savor the brilliance of a Mendoza film. The suspense ratchets up to the roof since the start of the Stygian journey. The film's chills quotient never flags down. It maintains its feverish pitch until the end.

The most chilling sight is seeing a pot-bellied man washing bits of skin and blood off his body. The man, who will later don a long-sleeved white polo, is Sarge, a police officer. Criminal cops? Scary stuff. The scarier part is they do really exist. As the movie of ex-Dagdag National Artist Carlo J. Caparas would say, 'God have mercy on us!'

*original online posting in 2009

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