Tuesday, July 02, 2013

NYAFF: The Animals

Kids grow up fast in Manila’s gated communities.  Instead of waiting for college to haze their juniors and slip girls roofies, they start in high school.  The law of the jungle applies in full force to the hard partying youths in Gino Santos’s The Animals (trailer here), which screens today during the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival.

Entitled as entitled gets, Jake is already a full-fledged exploiter, charging bait-and-switch prices for his raves.  His girlfriend Trina is somewhat middle-class, but her hotness still provides her some social status.  Her introverted younger brother Alex is not so fortunate.  He is pledging a gang-like fraternity out of a need for a sense of belonging.  They will all end up at Jake’s latest party, where things quickly get ugly as sex, booze, drugs, and violence will become tragically intertwined for several of Animals’ major characters.

These sort of things never happened while Old Man Marcos was around—that doesn’t make him right, but just saying.  For weak parents, the good thing about martial law is it comes with a curfew.  From what we see of them in Animals, Jake and Trina’s parental units are clueless to the point of negligence.  Likewise, the male characters are almost exclusively cads on the make, most definitely starting with Jake.  In contrast, Trina and her friends are certainly shallow (and her kleptomania is a bit problematic), but they are far from irredeemable.

Unfortunately, Animals is more like Larry Clark’s Kids than Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day.  Santos revels in the dissolute youths’ hedonism and the tragic repercussions, but he never really gets inside anyone’s head.  As a result, viewers will feel a little gross taking in the enormity of his teenage wasteland.

Still, there are some remarkable performances, starting first and foremost with Dawn Balagot as the insecure, borderline anorexic Trina.  Although a small supporting role, Micah Cabral shows plenty of “it-factor” as Trina’s flirty friend Leslie.  However, it is hard to get what they see in any of the guys, including Albie Casino’s blandly amoral Jake.

While imperfect, Animals is still an interesting statement on contemporary Filipino society.  Arguably, it serves as the evil twin of Marie Jamora’s What Isn’t There, whose teenagers are smart, sensitive, and go out primarily just to hear their favorite indie bands.  For those who take their cinema with a heavy dose of class warfare, The Animals screens this afternoon (7/2) and next Wednesday night (7/10) at the Walter Reade Theater as part of NYFF’s Manila Chronicles: the New Filipino Cinema.