William Seabrook (Robert Nunes), a scientist, hires an ornery band of hooligans headed by the shadowy King (Millard Keung) to locate Maiya (Jill Palencia), the descendant of an ancient tribe believed to possess treasures worth billions of dollars. Upon finding the girl, they acquire a gemstone, a green diamond, believed to have fallen from the skies. On microscopy, a virulent strain of virus is found therein. Chaos ensues as the pirates seize control of the expedition, briskly infecting everyone in the island.
Meanwhile, 17 year old Romy (Ronald Pacifico) and his friend Peewee (Martin Sandino Sa Juan) earn their keep by digging graves, plundering from the corpse’s possessions: wristwatches, jewelries, and even the occasional gold-plated tooth. After all, “dead people don’t need material things”. Their vocation has taken them outside the big city where they’re notoriously called the grave bandits. While Romy craves for material riches (“cars, a big house, three wives… with no children”), his 12-year old partner just wants to find the mother who abandoned him. But they picked the wrong town for their latest heist. They’ve become earnestly pursued. As a last straw, they hop into a boat, sailing across the sea until they reach a remote, seemingly uninhabited island. What they didn’t realize, the island is filled with ravenous, flesh-eating zombies!
|Ronald Pacifico plays Romy|
|Martin Sandino San Juan plays Peewee|
The world has an ongoing fascination with the undead, along with post apocalyptic fares: Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (UK), Murat Emir Erin’s “The Island: Zombie Marriage” (Turkey), even Bangladesh has its own zombie movie. The genre is spreading like wildfire. Last year, Brandon Relucio and Ivan Zaldarriaga’s “Di Ingon Nato” (Not Like Us) was a zombie treat in Visayan dialect.
This year's worthy addition to the genre is Director Tyrone Acierto’s “The Grave Bandit”, a visually sumptuous nail-biter that, though riddled with clichés characteristic of the genre, is unadulterated cinematic magic! It pulsates with convivial disposition like a shot of adrenaline.
The main protagonists are spirited characters who grow on you. It helps that Pacifico (a fisherman’s son) and San Juan enjoy comfortable banter that allows natural humor to course through the narrative. What’s more amusing is Pacifico’s exchange with Nunes, playing the “mad”, albeit greedy scientist Seabrook: his facility of the English language and his intuition for humor are a bit too advanced for a grave-digging scavenger: “It’s not stealing; it’s recycling;” “So you saved me so I can save you!” Nonetheless, these moments carry a slice of charm, as our poverty-stricken heroes aren’t dumbed down. Besides, in a realm that habituates the silver screen, you sometimes require a leap of faith to fully embrace its entertainment value.
There are valid points appended to contribute to the steadily growing myth of the malevolent population of the undead: like saying that “whoever touches its blood becomes a follower” (though, of course, we’re aware that a “bite” is essential to become one); that alcohol confuses them - and that the stench of urine poured all over the body prevents these creatures from attacking you. Just be careful you don’t get rained on, debah?
|Jill Palencia plays Maiya. Her character is feisty and plays a pivotal role in the narrative. The character, I feel, needs a little embellishment to be truly empathetic.|
|Robert Seabrook plays sinister scientiist William Seabrook who could visualize a virus in a small microscope. Imagine that! :)|
Like most horror films, there are moments of sheer stupidity. When Romy was about to leave the island, he saw the zombies from a distance running towards him. Instead of joining Maiya and Peewee in the boat, he just stood there waiting for them to get to him. If he did the logical thing, it would have cut the running time by 30 minutes, wouldn’t it?
Production value is above par and could give many mainstream features a run for their money. Cinematography (Marcin Szocinski), for example, is a visual buffet, with crystal quality even in dimly lit scenes. More than that, the placement of cameras are a genius concoction of quasi-Tatami shots and occasional oblique positioning, yet they don’t inspire vertigo as most handhelds. This allows a fresh perspective for the viewer. Moreover, this flurry of techniques imbues a sense of urgency to the constant and frenetic mobility of its characters. However, a bit of care has to be taken for those skewed horizons. Mother Lily’s team (not to mention Vic Sotto and Bong Revilla) of horror-meisters could benefit from Acierto’s creative think tanks. But then, not everyone can afford to go to Columbia or Switzerland. J Then there’s Cecille Baun’s prosthetics. Baun, an iconic figure in her field, delivers some of her most masterful creations here. You suddenly wonder how much the production has for its budget.
Acierto’s “The Grave Bandits” deserves a full commercial run because it can be enjoyed by a mainstream audience. He populates his narrative canvas with fetching characters and a plot that bristles with excitement and pulse-bounding adventure. Now you only have 3 more days to catch this film in Glorietta! Run!