August 8, 2014
It used to be that indie films meant a film with an intense story wrapped around an interesting topic of focal interest, but with largely unknown actors and relatively poorer production values than mainstream films, as they were either poorly lit or roughly edited. So therefore, they would be of interest to only serious cinephiles in film festivals, like the Cinemalaya.
But as I got to watch more and more local indie films over the years, I see that more and more mainstream actors are getting into the indie scene, and that the production values are getting much cleaner and better. Save for a few little details, this film "The Janitor" follows the lead of last year's "On the Job", with its big name stars and sleek production, it also looks and feels like a very commercial mainstream film.
"The Janitor" is about Crisanto Espina (Dennis Trillo), a committed cop who was suspended when he shot a minor drug suspect dead. On June 21, 2011, the Mabuhay Bank in San Pedro, Laguna was held up and ten of its employees were killed. A drug addict tricycle driver Junjun Carasco (Nicco Manalo) was apprehended for questioning and a list of suspects was tortured out of him. The new police chief Bugaouisan (Ricky Davao) instructs a senior police officer Rudy Manapat (Richard Gomez) to handle the case Solitaire style, which turned out to mean summary execution. Manapat assigns Espina to "clean up" these suspects.
Dennis Trillo credibly played the flawed hero Espina. We see Trillo's quiet tender side at home, in his scenes with his new wife Melba (LJ Reyes) pregnant with their first son, his mother Ester (Irma Adlawan) left a vegetable after a major stroke, and his dad Monching (Dante Rivero) a grumpy perverted old man who never forgave his disgraced son. On the other hand, when he is "on the job" so to speak, action star Trillo comes out with some very well-choreographed chase and fight scenes.
We suffer together with poor Nicco Manalo throughout his cruel torture scenes, the method of which was determined by a spinning a wheel, be it Helmet or Kwek Kwek, among several other brutal ways. The one called Adidas made some queasy audience members scream with its realistically bloody rendition. The execution scenes escalated from simple to complex. The way Alex Medina was killed in a cornfield was suffused with suspense. The way Raymond Bagatsting was killed was extremely thrilling, effectively eliciting shrieks from the audience.
Derek Ramsey, who plays the idolized scourge of drug lords SPO3 Dindo Marasigan, was given an idealized masculine presence onscreen, with his steamy bed scene with the sexy Kristal (Sunshine Garcia), his big macho wheels, his devil-may-care demeanor and look.
The technical aspects of film-making, particularly the cinematography and the sound, were excellent. There were some editing issues noted though, such as in the fight scene between Trillo and Ramsey where the gun on the floor was drastically shifting position with every scene, or in one of the first scenes when Trillo seemed to have made the sign of the cross in reverse. I was also confused whether Manapat and Espina were policemen from Laguna or Manila, because I thought I saw Manila on their badges of their uniforms.
Although it is not exactly to the caliber of "On the Job" with which it shared some similarities (the summary executions topic and the poster style, to mention a couple), "The Janitor" is an entertaining and exciting action film which the mainstream audience will also like. Director Michael B. Tuviera has succeeded to create an indie film with a definite commercial look, feel and appeal. Yesterday, it had already been declared the box-office hit of the festival. A blockbuster regular run won't be far behind. 7/10.