Teban (Francis Magundayao) was an 18-year old petty thief who had just been released from prison. His elder brother Tony (Topper Fabregas) brought him and their cousin Ron-ron (Noel Comia Jr.) to live in an old apartment building. Their neighbor Lea (Francine Diaz) propositioned Teban to help her to steal a box of cash belonging to their grumpy old neighbor Tatay Nando (Lou Veloso). When an unexpected emergency came up that required a big amount of money, the desperate Teban had no choice but to agree.
Writer-director Rae Red was met with critical acclaim for her debut feature film "Babae at Baril" (2019). Like before, she again examined the psychology behind criminality for her sophomore feature, this time focusing on the thought processes of delinquent teenagers while plotting and executing a crime unlike anything they had attempted before. This crime was underway even before the 30-minute mark, which meant that there was still an hour more to go to follow the aftermath of their foolhardy caper.
Red made full use of the expertise of her talented tech crew: Pao Orendain (cinematography), Lawrence Ang (editing), Allen Roy Santos (sound) and Johann Mendoza (musical score) to transform what could have been a basic teenage crime scenario into an intense thriller with an atmosphere of over-the-top tension that occasionally approached the level of horror. Mikey Red's production design of calculated mess made the rooms and corridors more derelict and distressing than they probably were in reality.
All three young actors in the lead roles (Magundayao, Diaz and Comia) all did very well to look problematic as they brooded about the miserable condition of their lives. They may have thought of themselves as street smart, but the naivete, vulnerability and carelessness of their youth worked to heighten the sense of danger that emanated from the screen.
The stressful performances of Jess Mendoza (as the grim sleazy Kulas) and Lehner Mendoza (as the slimy demented Jose) further added to the craziness of the mood. Ross Pesigan played Jayron, the boyfriend of Tony, as an LGBT nod. Theater actors Raffy Tejada and Martha Comia play Erning and Aling Joni, other neighbors in the building .
This film would give us pause and think seriously about how and why adolescents could commit crimes. Poor socio-economic status, is one factor. Teban had no income and was pushed to handle huge debts on his own. Parental neglect is another. Lea's father was not only negligent but also physically abusive towards her.
The excitement of doing something risky and not getting caught is pure id, thrilling for any teenager. However, his superego may not yet be sufficiently developed to warn him about the consequences.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."