It is not very often that we stumble upon a film that's so raw and gripping that we have to catch our breath just to make it to the ending. This is the feeling that audiences should expect when they watch the film 'Graceland' written and directed by Ron Morales.
The film centers on Marlon Villar, the family driver of Congressman Manuel Chango. Life hasn't been easy for this guy. With a little daughter to send to school and a wife confined to the hospital, Marlon is indeed lucky just to get by. One day while he is driving his own daughter and his boss' daughter to school, they fall victim to a kidnapping attempt. During the incident, he got knocked out by the perpetrator. Not to give anything away, but what happens next is a dark, scary and downward dive to the pits of modern-day hell.
Can he save his own daughter? Well it all depends on Marlon's next moves. However the bigger question is will he be able to save his own soul when all that matters to him is slowly being dragged away?
'Graceland' opens our eyes to the things we usually turn away from: pedophilia, human trafficking and corruption. Hence, calling this film brave is an understatement, risky is more like it. So risky in fact, that it gives us an unflinching look into the moral decays of our society. It shows us what really happens behind the closed doors and glitzy lights of seedy bars and moldy brothels. The film introduces us to the countless faces of young girls being sold at night and the camera-friendly faces of politicians bribing their way to get what they want. Yes we have to admit that at this point of sugarcoating and fantasy role-playing in movies, reality is the new weird.
However at its core is a conflicted man like Marlon who is just trying to survive and doing everything to save his family at all cost.
One of the most remarkable elements of the production is its tight and well-paced script. From the time we see Marlon fetch a child prostitute in the beginning to the film's shocking end, we the audience will be glued to follow the main character's every move. Indeed Ron Morales hooks us right from the beginning and never let go. All of the jolts in the story also add to the thrills.
The cinematography and production design sticks to its commitment of showing the reality in Metro Manila. The camera follows the main character like a cat, jerking gracefully with every twist and turn.
The biggest triumph of the film though is the performances by the actors. Arnold Reyes registers emotion very well on screen. One scene sums up his performance - after the kidnapping incident, he got out of the car and walks aimlessly on trash heap. He did not utter a lot of words but one look at his face and we will all see despair.
Menggie Cobarrubias as Congressman Manuel Changho is perfectly cast as the flawed politician who preys on little girls to feed his fetish. Child actress Ella Guevara as Marlon's daughter Elvie is one of the film's surprising discovery. Though she doesn't actually have a lot of screen time, she was able to make her character memorable as the kidnapped daughter. However, the biggest scene stealer of 'Graceland' is Dido de la Paz as Detective Ramos. His menacing and sometimes humorous turn as the investigator makes us think twice if he is as corrupt as the politician, or as dedicated as Marlon.
Director Ron Morales succeeds in taking us into the bleak and dark world of Metro Manila and lets us smell the stench of rotten flesh in the dumps and taste the fear in the air. It is just a challenge for us movie goers, to either look away or open our eyes.
'Graceland' is Rated R-18 and is showing at Cinema 7, Robinson's Galleria Movieworld on September 12 to 18.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed.