It’s another day in the lives of Jake (Albie Casino), his girl friend Trina (Dawn Balagot), and her younger brother Alex (Patrick Sugui) who navigate the frenetic, upper middle class environment of their affluent school. There’s a kinetic buzz among the youthful crowd, each one is looking forward to another after-school revelry; a night of loud music, dancing, booze, hook-ups and pill popping! Meanwhile, Jake is engrossed organizing the aforementioned gig; something that would earn him big bucks (since people pay an entrance of P250). While Trina is looking forward for the party, her brother Alex is having cold feet showing up in school. All morning, he’s been memorizing names and slogans of the fraternity he’s entering as a pledge. Today, he would endure being slapped, paddled, punched and humiliated. It doesn’t help that his immediate superior (Carlo Cruz of “Balang Araw”) is as nasty as they get. As the hours pass, his fellow pledge Marco (John Wayne Sace) gets ordered a random act of violence (by hitting someone with a bottle on the head). What’s out there for Alex?
Night time comes. Party swings into full gear. Someone is assigned to document the event – and to “delete nothing”. While Jake is preoccupied running the “show”, Dawn and company turn their attention to heavily inebriated friend Cara who’s puking all over the place. Pierre (Bryan Homecillo) passes a spiked drink to his crush Trina who subsequently passes the “e”-riddled liquor to the already-tanked Cara (why a concerned friend would further feed a drunk classmate with more liquor is beyond me). What becomes of Cara?
When Trina gets back to the dance floor, she finds Jake flirting with another girl. Quarrel erupts and Trina walks out of the party. She runs into Pierre who offers her a ride home, but eventually whips out his swollen penis. Trina runs out the door, not realizing that her brother Alex is also in a moral quandary. He was told to punch the bejesus out of another guy! Would he do it or would he cop out? Meanwhile, Trina hops in a taxi. “Alabang po,” she tells the craggy faced taxi driver who intermittently takes his eyes off the road to check out her legs! Would Trina find her way home?
Director Gino M. Santos chronicles the stories (with co-writer Jeff Stelton) he’s compiled in his head. He’s lived similar scenes from his not-so-distant past, i.e. as a rabid party goer among the conios of La Salle. What transpires is a film that bristles with frenetic energy, youthful verve, and unscrewed momentum. He gets the pivotal atmosphere down pat. It was also wise that Santos and Skelton decided to focus on three characters instead of ambitiously apprising a hundred and one souls (a common blunder among neophyte directors) for his narrative. Santos occasionally delves into gimmicky strains (a truly offensive bathroom soaked with vomit, a stuporous girl dipping her hand in the toilet bowl, a scene showing a surely-prosthetized engorged penis of the crafty Pierre/Bryan Homecillo). New directors always try the “let’s-shock-em” tack to help move a narrative but this isn’t an absolute necessity. Of course it’s easy to argue that, as a film maker, one is compelled to show “authenticity” which easily translates into anything that flabbergasts or overwhelms. When you have a valid story, you actually don’t have to resort – or linger- on such narrative ruse. But I am merely nitpicking.
Fact is, though Santos is rough around the edges, he has an enviable cinematic intuition that isn’t exactly taught by a New York Film Academy workshop. You have it or you don’t. Film school doesn’t exactly teach you how to be a good film maker. Otherwise, Krizzie Syfu (“Tahanan”) would be a superlative film maker. Same goes to names like Crisaldo Pablo, Seymour Barros-Sanchez (“Handumanan”, who I heard is a film professor in a Makati college – that should make students shiver in their knickers) and his brother Sigfried Barros Sanchez (“Tsardyer”), et.al. Santos runs a visual pulse that, in midscreening, grips you with a sense of urgency. What’s better, his technicals are as delightful.
Now let’s meander into the individual performances. Albie Casino captures the contemporary teener who thinks of nothing more than the indulgences that a narcotic whiff may bring; the kiss of a besotted girlfriend; the exhilaration of flirtation and the empowerment of fast buck. He may have been a disappointment in “Aswang”, but Casino redeems himself in “The Animals”. While “good looks” is imperative in show business, it is the emotive ability that tides one over to his next project. Casino palpably thrives in his youthful environment.
While Albie more than passes muster, Patrick Sugui (former PBB Teen housemate) is a revelation. Sugui mopes like the cantankerous, albeit moody teenager. He inhabits Alex with decadent demeanor, deceptive in his tame facies; a predicament within himself. He saunters around with adequate gravitas even beside competent actors like John Wayne Sace and Bryan Homecillo. Dawn Balagot, on the other hand, graces the screen with a luminous presence. I don’t particularly like the narrative strain alluding to her kleptomania. It seems like a misplaced entity and hovers like a sore thumb where characterization is concerned. In fact, I’d say it’s mostly a dissolute idea because it disallows consistency of character. Having said that, Balagot is a charmer; she deserves to be on the big screen.
On a disturbing note, crowds have been turned away in Ayala’s Greenbelt 3 screenings. Several consecutive screenings (in both Greenbelt3 Cinema 3 and 5) ended with films that stalled 15 to 20 minutes into the film. To have to brave the floods of the metropolis, disregard bed weather, and end up with a Saturday filled with screenings that don’t quite push through is a major hassle. Go elsewhere. A cinema that doesn't prepare well for their paying audience doesn’t deserve patronage.
|Patrick Suguii plays Alex|
|Albie Casino plays Jake, the "party-maker".|
|The girls are out to party (above). Bryan Homecillo (who plays Pierre) has his eyes on Trina.|
|Carlo Cruz plays the mean frat man|
|John Wayne Sace is neophyte Marco.|
|Dancing like there's no tomorrow.|
|Albie Casino is Jake.|
|Patrick Sugui is Alex.|
|Young veterans John Wayne Sace and Bryan Homecillo|
|Director Gino M. Santos, the boy next door. Err, I mean director next door. :)|