Movie review: 'ML' shows millennials the horrors of Martial Law

Fred Hawson

Posted at Nov 12 2018 01:52 PM

Movie review: 'ML' shows millennials the horrors of Martial Law 1
Eddie Garcia won best actor during the Cinemalaya 2018 film fest for 'ML.' Cinemalaya

"ML" was one of the most controversial and talked-about films from the Cinemalaya 2018 film fest held last August. It won a couple of awards back then, one for editing and another for best actor for veteran Eddie Garcia. I was disappointed not to have been able to watch it back then, so I was thankful that it had its commercial release this week, just three months after Cinemalaya. 

Carlo was given a research assignment by his professor to interview a first-hand source about President Ferdinand Marcos's infamous martial law rule. He decided to visit the Colonel, an elderly retired ex-Metrocom officer in their village to get his thoughts about the subject matter. However, Carlo would never have even imagined the gory nightmare that was going to happen to him right after he asked the Colonel his very first question about martial law.

Because this film had a lot of media exposure, I already expected that this film would be about the violent torture that reportedly happened during the martial law years. Even with that knowledge, it did not prepare me for the intense level of vicarious pain those torture scenes will inflict on me as a viewer. This harrowing and shocking film, with its eerie musical score (Pearlsha Abubakar-Quebral) and skillful editing (Mikael Pestano), was tough to watch without flinching. 

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A major part of the effectivity of this film's horror is the performance of Eddie Garcia as the Colonel. He did not even need to talk to be scary. Even his glowering stare alone already conveyed that demented sense of cruelty to make our hearts palpitate out of fear. When he did speak, his calm voice ironically dripped with sinister intentions. Repulsive and fearsome as his role was, Garcia completely dominated this film with his screen magnetism, which had not diminished even at his present age of 89. 

Tony Labrusca played Carlo. Tall and athletic, he registered well on the big screen. He spent a good part of the film unable to talk, and therefore had to only rely on his eyes and body language to convey his pain at the terrible things happening to him, and the terror of watching his friends suffer because of their association with him. However, he has a rather distracting American accent he still needs to work on. 

Labrusca is the current it-boy in local showbiz this year. 2018 was his big breakout year, with three lead roles. "ML" was his first full feature film role and it was immediately a lead -- and a serious one at that, not a run-of-the-mill teenage rom-com. He would follow "ML" up with another dark mind-bending film "Double Twisting Double Back" for the Cinema One Originals film fest, and now, he is promoting a third one "Glorious," an unconventional love story co-starring Angel Aquino. 

Heinz Villaraiz was the carefree party boy Jaze. His initial conversation with the Colonel about Valkyrie may have been rather funny, but what happened to him next certainly was not. Liane Valentino was Carlo's girlfriend Pat. Her sweet and innocent face made her fate at Colonel's hands even more traumatic to watch. We may have heard about these various torture techniques before, but to actually see them being performed on these unsuspecting young people on the big screen magnified their savagery twice-fold or more. 

Writer-director Benedict Mique was able to think up and execute a film that gave a novel approach to show the horrors of Martial Law. There was no need for preachy politics here to promote #NeverForget, just in-your-face brutality to get his point across. He was aiming for clueless young people who have been currently bombarded with various forms of historical revisionism on social media about these dark years and who may now actually believe that these horrors never existed at all. 8/10 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."