Sunday, January 21, 2018

Slamdance ’18: Manila Death Squad (short)

Rodrigo Duterte, the karaoke crooner, might not approve of the Flying Ipis’s punk rock “My Way” (although he should, because it is pretty awesome), but a lot of what goes on in this sleazy after-hours joint he would be perfectly fine with—allegedly. A Filipino-American journalist hopes to get the scope on vigilante killings from the horse’s mouth, but she might end up part of her own story in Dean Colin Marcial’s short film, Manila Death Squad (trailer here), which screens as part of the Anarchy shorts block at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival in Park City.

The last person the death squad wants to talk to is a journalist, but she invites herself to join their party anyway. She knows who they are and she wants an exclusive from them. Their hardnosed leader tries to use drinking games to dissuade her, but she can think on her feet and hold her liquor. Ultimately, she wants an interview with their boss—and wouldn’t you like to know who that is. Maybe we will find out if MDS gets expanded into a feature.

There seems to be able room in this ripped-from-the-headlines world for a full feature treatment, but you have to wonder if Marcial can keep up the dizzyingly nervy breakneck energy for such an extended period. Even the subtitles in MDS are hip and stylishly noir, but the threat of violence is palpable and ever-present.

Somehow, Marcial also recruited a cast worthy of mainstream studio features, reuniting Annicka Dolonius and Sid Lucero from The Apocalypse Child, as the reporter and the death squad leader. Dolonius is totally on the money, playing the journalist tough, smart, and vulnerable. However, Lucero’s sinister fierceness is a bit of a pleasantly frightening surprise. They are both terrific playing off each other, plus the Flying Ipis totally rock the house.

Marcial also helmed the spooky Midnight Service webisode docs, so he clearly has a talent for making potent shorts. Manila Death Squad packs a mean punch, but its characters and circumstances would easily sustain a more extended film. Regardless, it represents some wildly impressive filmmaking. Very highly recommended, Manila Death Squad screens again tomorrow (1/22), as part of the Anarchy shorts package at the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival.