Tuesday, June 21, 2016

NYAFF ’16: Apocalypse Child

It is sort of a cross between the existential Japanese Sun Tribe films and the American Independent beach party movies, but it couldn’t exist without the apex of Hollywood 1970s auteurism. According to legend, after finishing the famous surfing sequence, the crew of Apocalypse Now left behind a few surfboards, inadvertently seeding a local surfing scene in Baler. According to family legend, Francis Ford Coppola did something similar with Ford’s mother. The moody surf instructor does not like to talk about it, but the rumors still dog him in Mario Cornejo’s Apocalypse Child (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.

Ford has been getting pretty serious with Fiona, a formerly troubled runaway, as even his free-spirited, permissive mother Chona notices. Unfortunately, just when things start to get real, his well-heeled childhood friend Rich makes his triumphant homecoming as Baler’s young new Congressman, with Selena, a beautiful fiancée in tow. Ford has plenty of reasons to resent Rich and perhaps vice versa, but the incredibly attractive foursome starts partying together, to keep up appearances. Periodically, they become a quintet whenever Chona brings over weed. However, all the time Ford and Selena are spending together for her surfing lessons is bound to lead to jealousy and temptation. There is actually some surfing too.

Regardless of its cinematic merits, Apocalypse certainly makes Baler look like a veritable paradise on earth. Apparently, you can surf and sun all day and then eat roast pig in the evening. It sounds great, even if there is a district mandate requiring neurotic co-dependent relationships.

Essentially, Apocalypse is part angsty indie drama and part sun-drenched guilty pleasure. Most of us probably prefer the latter (its summertime, after all), even though the five principles are all pretty good. In fact, Annicka Dolonius (also quite impressive in What Isn’t There) plays the more-vulnerable-than-she-wants-to-let-on Fiona with exquisite subtlety. Sid Lucero can definitely surf and brood, so he has Ford buttoned-down well enough. Gwen Zamora is a luminous presence as Selena, but it is hard to believe an up-and-coming politician would get involved with someone with her back story. Frankly, RK Bagatsing’s Rich is problematically whiny, while Ana Abad-Santos probably wins cheap audience points with her Susan Sarandonish portrayal of Chona.

Even what things get messy and awkward, Apocalypse always sparkles thanks to cinematographer Ike Avellana’s bright, inviting lensing. It is the sort of film that works just enough to keep viewers invested and potentially inspire repeat home viewings. This is one you will want to take to your shore house when it comes out on DVD. Recommended for what it is, Apocalypse Child screens Thursday (6/23) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.