MANILA -- Crime thriller "Smaller and Smaller Circles" is making its way to Philippine cinemas this Wednesday following a successful world premiere at the 22nd Busan International Festival last October.
The much-awaited film adaptation, which received an "A" rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board, is based on the best-selling novel "Smaller and Smaller Circles" written by F.H. Batacan in 1997.
It tells the story of two Jesuit priests out to investigate the gruesome murder of young boys who turn up dead in the teeming slums of Payatas.
"It was interesting to have a Filipino serial killer story with Jesuit detectives, very unique," said film producer Ria Limjap, who chanced upon the novel's expanded edition during a literary festival in 2015.
"Smaller and Smaller Circles" boasts of a carefully selected cast led by award-winning actors Nonie Buencamino as forensic scientist Father Gus Saenz and Sid Lucero as Saenz's protege, Father Jerome Lucero.
Other stars include veterans Bembol Roco as NBI director Francisco Lastimosa as well as Christopher de Leon and Ricky Davao, with cameo performances by Tessie Tomas, among others.
The film also features a breakthrough performance by Carla Humphries as investigative journalist Joanna Bonifacio.
Batacan recalled that the original novel was written back when she was still working in a government agency.
"At the time, there were many frustrations. The writing of the novel was an outlet for that frustration." Batacan said. "There was a desire for change, a desire to talk about what holds us back as a nation, what holds us back as people, public servants, government employees and, really, the kind of service we should be providing for our people. That was the frustration, the unwillingness to embrace change."
"The fact that the expanded version came well before the reality we face today, the fact that it still seems to be relevant regardless who is in the driver's seat, I think, that says a lot about how we've matured as a nation, as a voting public, as a citizenry... It says that we have not really moved very much from 1997, from 2015. We're still stuck in a rut," the author continued. "So, the question is: what do we do? The central theme of the book is to ask why. It's not a whodunnit, it's a whydunnit."
The creative team admitted that the film adaptation offers themes and images that are eerily relevant today.
"When we found the story, [things] weren't as bad as it is now," Limjap said. "Children were not yet turning up dead in the streets."
Freelance journalist Tina Cuyugan, who read the original novel, recently caught the movie premiere.
"I read 'Smaller and Smaller Circles' years ago. It's amazing that in so many ways, it anticipated a lot of things that are happening now: lives being held cheap, young lives from poor communities, these are the ones being affected by the current events," Cuyugan said.
"When you look at it, this book was written many years ago, almost two decades ago. This goes to show the dark currents in Philippine society have been in existence for a while and have not really been addressed. It's good that this movie brings it to wider attention," she added.
As the film adaptation makes its way to Philippine cinemas, members of the production team are inviting audiences to "look closer."
"Our tagline for the film is 'look closer' and I think it encapsulates everything we want to say about the film," Limjap said. "We want people to be more aware of what goes on beneath the surface."
A SERIES OF FIRSTS
The "Smaller and Smaller" circles film is a first for Limjap, who co-wrote the screenplay with Moira Lang.
"It was a very organic experience. Raya (Martin) did an outline from the book," Limjap said. "From the outline, I took the book and turned it into a screenplay, and Moira came in and tweaked dialogue. We tweaked scenes and we were writing all the way until the shoot. We would rewrite scenes, revisit them, and see if they would work or not and we would change them. The actors also had their input in dialogue."
"We loved the story so we wanted to stay true to it and, at the same time, turn it more cinematic," she added.
Batacan served as creative consultant, but left the actual work involved with filmmaking to the experts.
"I'm not a filmmaker. I'm a writer and I knew that the producers have been doing this for some time and they've been successful at it," said Batacan, who also got a behind-the-scenes look at the actual shoot in Jesuit territory, the Ateneo de Manila University campus, with her 5-year old son Jaime in tow.
Meanwhile, Batacan revealed that a book prequel is already in the offing, 20 years after writing the original novel.
"Smaller and Smaller Circles" is produced by TBA Studios, the indie outfit behind acclaimed films such as "Heneral Luna," "Sunday Beauty Queen," "Bliss," and "Birdshot."
The movie is distributed by Columbia Pictures.