Matangtubig (Jet Leyco, 2015) November 7, 2015Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian cinema, Noypi, QCinema.
Written by Brian Gonzales
Directed by Jet Leyco
Cast: Amante Pulido, Lance Raymundo, Mailes Kanapi
The original script of Matangtubig is heavy on the procedural, following a series of events after the discovery of a dead girl’s body and the vain efforts to find her missing companion. It is a horrible crime emphasized by where it has taken place: a quaint, rural town in Batangas whose mayor brags about a zero crime rate, a neighborhood where everyone knows each other and paranoia spreads like wildfire. Writer Brian Gonzales sticks to several genre conventions but lays it open to strange possibilities, allowing director Jet Leyco to play his tricks and submerge the narrative in a bizarre concoction of lies, enigmas, and specters. It is as hardboiled as it gets, and the shell cracks as soon as the witness, a fisherman with also a daughter to protect, decides to keep the truth.
Evidently Matangtubig wants to achieve two things: to tell a compelling murder mystery and, in the course of getting close to the answers, to fuck it up. As the narrative unfolds, or gives this impression of movement, the red herrings are also scattered and left in such careful nonchalance, clearing this path leading to the climax. The fucking up isn’t random and impulsive — there is a choreography to it, a manipulation of actions intended to bring to the surface these supernatural elements — and this is Leyco’s touch, unleashing the uncanny out of the everyday while also being mindful of the sociopolitical timber, his signature, the watermark on his films.
There is humor in its terror, and a number of scenes and sequences contribute to characterization: the uncomfortable photo op when the parents of the victims have switched picture frames of their daughters, Lance Raymundo doing his report in the middle of the water and suddenly disappearing, the marching band and the funeral procession meeting absurdly at an intersection, the first time the mysterious fragments are shown in passing.
But sadly the whole doesn’t pan out as strongly as expected. The problem with Matangtubig is its narrative design, how the layout looks striking from afar but upon closer inspection the arrangement of text (plots) and images (visuals) — not to mention other elements aimed to complement them: rhythm, music, sound, clues, blank spaces — is too loud and pronounced, letting the viewer see the actual strings being pulled. It is deliberate in revealing right at the start the identity of the perpetrators, an intriguing hook by all means, but in a way the film also works in a similar vein: anyone with a discerning eye for detail can see where it is going, what atmosphere it is aiming for, what horror it has in store.
The concern is not about being highly derivative — certainly many works at present borrow from others, from style to atmosphere, from technique to world view, from milieu to pacing — but it depends a lot on the ability to hold everything together with a sleight of hand, to go above the comparisons and leave a singular, distinctive dent. This is Leyco’s objective. The end of Matangtubig is bombastic without apologies: it is the culmination of the other side of its murder mystery. And while it leaves on such a high note, the astonishing spectacle it has painstakingly worked hard for achieves an effect that leaves as quickly as a shooting star: so fast there is no time to make a wish.