Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Faraway: How Not to Tour the Philippines

Don’t want to take responsibility for your crummy life? Blame the Diwata, the creatures of Philippine legend that literally write the fates of every human being. An American tourist is convinced she knows where to find the seat of their mystical domain. There might be considerable treasure there as well. To be honest, she is not too sure about that point, but it doesn’t stop a gang of bandits from following her rag-tag party in Randal Kamradt’s Faraway (trailer here), which releases on VOD today, from Devolver Digital.

Audrey Felidor does not have much of a plan, but she seems to generally know where she is going. She acts All-American and does not speak Tagalog or other local lingo, despite claiming to be half-Filipino. Needing an English speaking guide, she somehow convinces Nick, the expatriate screenwriter staying in her boarding house to help her traverse three hundred miles to her destination island. He is a far cry from Indiana Jones, but at least their landlady’s rebellious daughter Hazel and her forbidden boyfriend Rey have a set of wheels. Unfortunately, their drunken chatter attracts the attention of a band of cutthroats that will be hard to shake.

To his credit, Kamradt staked out a mythical race that has not been spoiled by Twilight or another paranormal YA franchise. In fact, the opening introduction to the Diwata and their Diwataism is quite intriguing and grabby. The subsequent ride will have its bumpy patches, but there is something appealingly scrappy about the film, nonetheless.

To be honest, Faraway is a dashed difficult sort of film to review. If you only see one film in a week or a month, you are likely to be disappointed by its rough edges, but if you see ten or fifteen a week, you will give it credit for its eccentricities and stylishly turned scenes (particularly the expository puppet show and the rave in the jungle). Kamradt’s screenplay takes a surreal twist down the stretch that might not work so well, but it certainly is not the third act audiences will be expecting. For what it’s worth, the one-sheet is also totally cool.

In a case of aesthetic consistency, Dana Jamison brings the strangest screen presence to the film as Felidor. It is not that she is bad. In fact, her performance is rather effective given the full dramatic context, but it still feels a little odd. Over time, Nick Medina somewhat grows on the audience as his namesake screenwriter. First time screen-thesp Genelyka Castin is a total natural right from the start as Hazel, but Leonard Olaer’s Rey sort of wilts amongst the bedlam.

Those who are always looking for the next big thing in indie genre cinema will not begrudge time spent with Faraway and will be receptive to Kamradt’s next film, but it is not exactly a magnum opus. For now, give cast and crew credit for finishing what must have been a difficult shoot. Recommended for the adventurous who appreciate an unpolished bauble, Faraway is now available on VOD platforms from Devolver Digital.