Fisherman Obet (Aljur Abrenica) rescued a mysterious woman Nerisa (Cindy Miranda) from drowning the ocean and brought her home to their island to be his wife. When Nerisa came, the neighbors all thought she was a mermaid who had caused their town's poor harvest of fish. One day, Obet and his group were forced by desperation to steer their boats beyond the legal fishing grounds to find more fish, but were lost at sea. The distraught Nerisa was willing to do anything to bring him back.
Lawrence Fajardo is best known for his two films set in Japan, "Imbisibol" (2015) and "Kintsugi" (2020). However, a review of his filmography showed that he had once directed a sex-drama film called "X-Deal" (2011) about a love triangle situation set within the confines of an apartment building in the city. "Nerisa," his second venture in the genre, transports an erotic story of sexual politics to a remote island where gossip and superstition held sway, while advocating against government apathy for the plight of local fisherfolk.
One thing that set this film apart is its gorgeous cinematography (by Joshua Reyles) and Cindy Miranda is the arresting focal point of it all. The camera loved her from every angle and she effortlessly dominates the screen when she is on with her luminous presence every time. Director Fajardo highlighted not only her classical beauty, but also effectively drew out her natural acting talent, making Miranda as intriguing as her character was. This made all the harrowing, humiliating ordeal Nerisa experienced all the more difficult and infuriating to watch.
There was a message of female empowerment here as the women knew how to talk back and fight back. Sheree Bautista played the fiercely independent village prostitute Joni, who stood her ground against the other women in the town who hated her. In a much improved, less self-conscious performance, nymphet du jour AJ Raval gamely played a supporting role as the virginal Lilet, who also narrated the story. Reliable veteran Elizabeth Oropesa played Segunda, who adopted Obet as her own son and was loyal to him to the very end.
Aside from Bembol Roco's Badong who spoke against the foreign intruders, the menfolk in town were portrayed as beasts who treated their women as mere property. Aljur Abrenica's Obet was a tragic figure with a twisted character development. Neil Tolentino played pervert barangay captain Ito, while Lowell Conales and Chrome Cosio play his conniving drinking buddies. Guji Lorenzana was disturbing a corrupt Coast Guard officer who used his position to take advantage of women asking for his help.
The script by Ricky Lee contained multiple lurid sex scenes and potentially exploitative material of sexual abuse, culminating in a stomach-churning sequence of violence. However, director Fajardo made sure "Nerisa" would not be just another soft-porn quickie by infusing his brand of cinematic artistry to elevate it, aiming to possibly achieve the level of "Scorpio Nights" (1985) or "Tuhog" (2001) in the future. There is a sense of irony in using an erotic film to transmit a message against misogyny, but this one does just that and delivered.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."