Wednesday, December 2, 2020

QCinema 2020: Review of MIDNIGHT IN A PERFECT WORLD: Nolan-esque Noir

December 2, 2020

In a not so distant future, Manila already had an efficient transport system and an ideal drainage system. However, the authoritarian government implemented extreme punishment against those who violated laws, called "blackouts."  In response to this, there were a number of "safe houses" for people to seek refuge from police capture. Despite this, there was still a rampant drug problem in the city. The latest craze was Magic Star, said to have the twice the trip of LSD, and the main dealer was the sleazy Kendrick (Charles Aaron Salazar).

A group of four friends got together one night because their common friend Deana had a "blackout" and had disappeared. Mimi (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) was the smart, careful one. Jinka (Glaiza de Castro) was the feisty, impulsive one. Glenn (Anthony Falcon) was the quiet pragmatic one. Tonichi (Dino Pastrano) was the nervous paranoid one. When they were caught on the street when the curfew hour hit, loud sirens and pitch darkness enveloped them. They ran in panic and were able to enter a safe house. Only then did they realize that Tonichi was not with them anymore.

The four millennial lead actors, Curtis-Smith, de Castro, Falcon and Pastrano, all stars of acclaimed indie films of the past, carried the film very well with their individual and ensemble performances. There were senior actors in the cast as well, Soliman Cruz (as Mimi's musician stepfather Fabian), Dolly de Leon (as Tonichi's mother Ella), whose scenes I cannot fit into the whole story. And then, there was that classy lady in the safe house Alma (the ever-elegant Bing Pimentel), who exactly is she and why had she been in three safe houses? To continue the thought, what exactly are those safe houses anyway?

What exactly was the nature of that black alien creature called the "Mimic" in the credits, who could consume humans with its darkness? Who was that man in the first scene played by Brian Sy and what happened to him after his close encounter with the alien? The whole concept of intermixing vivid dreams into the context of reality reminded me of Christopher Nolan's "Inception" (2010) and the Wachowski's "The Matrix" (1999), wherein Dayao incorporated his own brand of horror and political statements. 

The allusions of this film to the current deadly war on drugs were not thinly veiled at all. There was even a line calling it a "beta version of Martial Law," with terms like "curfew" and "desaparecidos" ("disappeared people") being mentioned. The statements after the last credit rolled up spelled Dayao's main motivations out clearly, with statements like Ariel Ureta's legendary "Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan," followed by the eternal Filipino civil rights vow and hashtag "Never Again." 

This was a slick suspense horror feature, only the second film of director Dodo Dayao, after his acclaimed debut "Violator" (2014). The plot was a complex sophisticated one with allusions to Philip K. Dick and bilocation, Ley lines and psychogeography.  This film definitely aspired much higher than the folkloric horror tropes he used in "Violator." The cinematography was topnotch with excellent use of pitch blackness. The sound design was remarkable in its use of absolute silence. There may be more questions than there were answers about the story, but visually and aurally, this was such an intense and immersive film experience. 8/10. 

PS: I had a problematic streaming experience with Upsteam - Gmovies platform when watching in my first and second attempts to watch this movie. It repeatedly announced errors to interrupt the stream, which necessitated me to refresh the page in order to resume viewing. Despite this, this remained to be a compelling and thrilling film to watch. I feel this could have been better seen on a big screen in an actual movie house. 

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