Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How to Disappear Completely (Raya Martin, Cinemanila 2013 Digital Lokal Best Picture)

I'm happy to see two award-winning films being screened outside the film festival circuit. Lav Diaz's Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan have had at least 10 blockbuster screenings so far at regular movie theaters. Raya Martin's How to Disappear Completely got a handful of screenings at UP Film Institute's Videotheque.

I was wary about Raya Martin's dabbling into the film horror genre. His previous works do not suggest an expertise in horror films. Playing a big part in my apprehension was Brillante Mendoza's horror film Sapi. I had high hopes for Mendoza's film because his Kinatay was a fantastic chiller. Unfortunately, Sapi is as boring as my bookish university professor.

On the other hand, How to Disappear Completely is your usual delicious Raya Martin film. It is a bit difficult to digest but the implosion of wonderful flavors linger.

A couple of genuinely funny moments intermingle with spooky scenes. The father (Nonie Buencamino) has an excellent scene telling the story of a royal couple who was blessed with a son. That son gave rise to a courageous breed of warriors. The father then knelt and pleaded before a cocky warrior. The kneeling harks back to a drinking session joke about a man kneeling to get back his girl.

The dinner table spat between the father (Buencamino) and the mother (Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino) is a delight to behold. The acting chemistry between the two actors is sublime. Meanwhile, their characters' daughter is in full view of the ongoing jousting. We seldom hear the reticent tween speak. But, once we get to peek into her young mind, she is brutally frank and as loud as your neighbor belting out an Aegis song in the middle of the night.

The poster, inspired by the iconic image of a peeping tom in Scorpio Nights, hints of sensuous goings-on in the film. The mother does a reading of how the daughters of Lot conspired to have sex with their father. That biblical story clouds the viewers' perception of the film's father and daughter relationship. Every interaction between the two reeks of suspense and foreboding. The viewers think of incest when there is none.

The masturbation scene of the daughter is steamy because the viewers felt like they were there at the bedside. Martin sets up viewers with a camera shot showing the room with widely-opened windows. Outside the house, we see trees and imagine several night creatures looking at the girl. Then, the camera cuts to the girl inserting her hand inside her shorts. A further cut shows the girl's orgiastic face. The viewers end up not only as voyeurs but also trespassers who have violated the privacy of her room.

The trespassing goes to a higher level. We get to enter the mind of the girl. We see the desperation of the girl to cut relations with her drunkard father and pious mother. One horrifying scenario of the girl reminds me of a real-life horror story. The missing students get me to thinking about the fate of female students kidnapped by bandits in Nigeria.

The first scene showing the girl threatening to kill all of them sets the whole tone of the film. I begin to imagine deaths in scenes even where there is none. The set-up shot of the Islands showing hundreds of coastal houses had me thinking of the destructive wrath of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

Raya Martin is so good in setting up viewers for a scare. Stories told by characters send the viewers' imagination to run amuck. He is also good in setting up viewers for a hearty laugh. I can't hardly wait for him to dabble in comedy films.

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