In the teeming slums of Payatas circa 1990s, a hard-bitten Jesuit priest tries to solve the gruesome murder of young boys, his obsession with piecing together the puzzle driven by his idyllic view that the abused should not be abandoned lest one wants the abusers to run free.
"Smaller and Smaller Circles" is adapted from the award-winning novel of F.H. Batacan of the same name, and opens with a grisly discovery -- the mutilated body of a prepubescent boy found in the middle of garbage heaps. The police turn to Father Saenz (Nonie Buencamino), infamous for unraveling a child abuse case against a church leader, and Father Jerome (Sid Lucero), a psychologist who also teaches about the horrors of the Martial Law era, for help.
The story plays out in fairly formulaic fashion, standard stuff for a page-turning procedural, littered with dialogue that is better read on paper: Saenz's explanation on how the murderer dehumanizes the victims; the on-air argument between the nation's police director and cardinal over the sins of the church; and a bereaved mother's passionate inquiry about why God, thought to be a merciful deity, would turn a blind eye from such atrocities.
Director Raya Martin describes translating the novel for the big screen a "responsibility," with its release this year, amid national debate over the government's brutal drug war that has killed addicts and innocents, leading to it being billed as a timely reminder about valuing human lives above all else.
The end result was more muted than expected, with the film sweeping aside its arguments against the church, its rampant systematic abuse of power, and similar crimes against victims today's society is still guilty of, as it rushes to conclude the horrid murders.
Maybe it's a matter of personal taste, but the film is simply lacking a truly rousing moment. It's gripping enough, and will certainly entice discussions among those who care to do so, but perhaps it needed to send out a bigger and bolder message, given the times.
You can check out the trailer for the film below: