Erik Matti's latest obra, Honor Thy Father, has a different tone from his last hit, On The Job.
How can you compare a fast-paced, pop-style action film set in the busy streets of Metro Manila to a quiet film noir drama situated in various parts of the Cordilleras?
John Lloyd Cruz stars as Edgar, a seemingly dutiful husband and doting father who is satisfied with sitting in the sidelines while a strong-willed wife Kaye, played by Meryll Soriano, takes the lead.
The family is involved in what is almost obvious, at the onset, a pyramid scheme that Kaye's father, Juancho Benavides, recruited them into. They are also members of a church, the fictional Church of Yeshua our Savior (COYS), that also reeks of scam.
Kaye so blindly believes in both as their saving grace and salvation, while Edgar quietly observes and follows.
John Lloyd has very little dialogue in the first part of the movie, as he observes, listens, quietly reacts to the events occurring around him. The shot where he is the only man standing quietly, pensively among a sea of COYS worshippers is a visualization and clear statement of his being out of place.
However, their quiet suburban life is shattered when Kaye's father is found dead and his scam is revealed, leaving Kaye and family to bear the brunt of the victims?? anger. Not only are they physically assaulted but their daughter Angel (Krystal Brimner) is abducted and their lives threatened unless they return the millions lost from the scheme.
Edgar is driven to desperation. The transformation from quiet husband to desperate man is signaled by the scene where John Lloyd shaves his head slowly, while delivering a monologue that shows what lies beneath, with each layer of hair that falls off. This is the part of the film where he has said the most lines??and they are cutting and very telling.
John Lloyd shines in this moment and Direk Erik's camera is able to capture the nuances in his speech and eyes. When he ends his lines, now bald, the result is chilling.
Eventually, Edgar goes back to Bontoc, to a family that welcomes him like the Biblical Prodigal Son.
His mother (Perla Bautista), after hearing his confession, instructs her other sons (played by Daniel Fernando, Boom Labrusca, and Khalil Ramos) to use their background as acetylene gang members to help their brother.
The climax of the film involves explosives inside a dark cavern, water rising fast as time runs out, and minimal dialogue--all resulting in edge-of-your-seat suspense.
The first sequence of Edgar digging furiously is a foreshadowing of his actions later in the film as well as relate to his kinship, being a true "son of the land."
Edgar is this kind of a man: he gives a stray dog some food, he sits back as his daughter is chastised for fighting back against a lascivious classmate, he does not tell his wife about the disciplinary action at school.
All of these are cues that speak of his character so that his motivations later on in the film are understandable, they give a basis for his sinister actions.
He is, as Italian neorealist protagonists portrayed onscreen, an everyman who is thrust in a desperate situation, acting and reacting to the best of his abilities.
Tirso Cruz III plays a sinister Bishop Tony, who seems to be the personification of evil. Yet he does not play the rabid evangelist as caricature, as he also has soft, human moments.
William Martinez, as Pastor Obet, shows the kind but helpless face of someone who wants to be good in a system that is otherwise unkind.
Meryll Soriano plays the role of fanatic and then desperate well. She is not prone to hysterics, making her relatable.
The actors transplanted to the upland, Perla Bautista, Daniel Fernando, Boom Labrusca, and Khalil Ramos, speak Ilocano and Kankanaey convincingly. Even John Lloyd's character, who in Baguio, spoke Tagalog, speaks the dialects with an accent that could pass as local.
As an adopted daughter of the Cordillera, this writer would have wanted to see more of the unique ways of the people shown--a chance to correct misconceptions. Yet this is not the purpose of the narrative.
The movie could have taken place in different parts of the Philippines, where there are also mines and cities vis a vis countryside.
The story, after all, portrays the struggles of every Filipino and posts the question: What would you do if you were in that desperate situation?
Direk Erik Matti translates Michiko Yamamoto's well-structured script and ambiguous characters onscreen very well. His compositions, especially those involving shots of scenery with subtle movements, show nature disturbed by human folly.
The cinematography by Ber Cruz plays with shadow and light, and contrasts during the day as well as the night. Even in semi-darkness, there are subtle blasts of light, especially in the scenes at the mines and river, that inject emotion into the scene.
The haunting musical score, composed mostly of violins and pianos, are used effectively in select scenes by Erwin Romulo, performed by Dong Abay and Lourd De Veyra.
In some scenes, there is no music but some ambient sounds are amplified to a deafening level, reflecting the inner turmoil that Edgar is experiencing.
Even the moments of silence, when the audience holds its collective breath for what will happen next, are used to great cinematic effect.
The movie has been screened internationally and was the opening film of the 11th Cinema One Originals Film Festival.
I daresay that Erik Matti is a strong contender for Best Director for artistic achievement in Honor Thy Father.
This action-drama film is one of the eight entries in the 41st Metro Manila Film Festival.
This and the other entries will shown in cinemas nationwide starting December 25, 2015.
(To learn more about the MMFF 2015 entries, CLICK HERE)
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.