Kinatay (a.k.a Butchered, The Execution of P.)

Now for a little diversion, my first ever Filipino movie!  Also the first Things Fall Apart reader suggestion.  2011 is a heady time no?

“Kinatay” tells the story of Peping (Coco Martin), a young man who is starting out training to be a Policeman.   We meet him on his wedding day, but we end it somewhere a lot darker.  He already helps out in the Police-run protection racket, but that night he is coerced into the kidnap and murder of a Prostitute (Maria Isabel Lopez).

The opening 30 minutes of the film is an utter joy.  We follow Peping and his bride to be through the streets of Manila – the streets are full of colour and life, we pass by a potential suicide, eavesdrop on a mass wedding, before  being entertained by a amusing civil wedding ceremony. 

Then night falls, and a different world emerges.  Its a grimy, dark world.  The fun and joy are drained away instantly, as we take a very long trip (literally) into the dark places in to which man can fall.

The most impressive part of the film is the soundscape, everything is hyper-real, creepy, exuding atmosphere.  You are more than a voyeur into this world, you are part of it, you are complicit.

It really is a film that will divide opinion, and a search through both professional and amateur reviewers will give you a real mix.  Some praise it for the realism and darkness, others find it rather dull and lifeless (especially after the bright opening).  It seems to have been advertised as a horror film, but aside from a rather gruesome dismemberment, it is far more of a slice of life drama, concentrating on the horror of this life.  It is not scary – it is disturbing.

The performances are good, going for a realistic approach, but no-one really stands out.  Other than the first 30 minutes, the characters are shells, devoid of humanity – aside from Martin, who plays it with a wide-eyed confusion.  It all makes sense, but it does create a distance from the Audience.

I have to admit the structure hurts the film.  A huge portion of the film takes place in a dimly lit van, with very little dialogue.  No character work is performed here, and I think the point could have been made in 30% of the time.  In fact the lack of dialogue really hurts the film to the outside audience – I’ll readily admit it took me a long time to realise that all the bad people in the film were part of the Police Force (despite the characters’ nicknames making this obvious).

But it is rather engrossing – like Pepoy, although you are given chances to escape, to turn the film off, you do find yourself locked into the film.  I am not sure it taught me anything that new about the human condition, but it is an interesting essay.  Director Brillante Mendoza has an obvious talent, but maybe a stronger rein from Production could have made the film a little tighter – I think the whole movie would have benefited by that.  I hope you know by now I don’t ache for commercial films, but there is something lacking here.  Maybe also because it feels like a short story, rather than something more meaty.

I am going to give this one the mildly recommended stamp – it did not disappoint like so many films recently, as I had no expectations, but it did not inspire and entrance me.

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