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A couple years back, an independent film from the Philippines named Kinatay shocked and awed festival film-goers the world over. The film by Brilliante Mendoza was regarded as one of the most controversial films of the year, and was even coined a horror movie by some. I'm here to tell you - two years later - that all the overly enthusiastic critiques appeared to be just that.
The film is about a young newlywed who takes a friend's job offer to earn some extra cash for his wife and baby. The gig, which he discovers a bit too late, involves kidnapping and accessory to murder.
The film initially starts off in almost documentary style fashion with the camera capturing real-life tidbits while gradually introducing us to the amicable protagonist. Over an hour later, when the meat and potatoes have begun to be served, it switches to a more conventional style with close-ups and bits of stylish direction - it's this melding of creative approaches that impressed me most about Kinatay. Along-side a cast of talented actors and urban Philippino settings, the movie feels fresh and consistently realistic.
Besides the film's tedious opening hour, what ultimately hurts Kinatay the most is/was the hype that initially surrounded it. Hype can be good, sometimes, but in cases like Kinatay, where the buzz mainly circulated around the exploitative aspects of the film, said film can and will implode. This film isn't very controversial and nor difficult to process it's actually rather straight-forward and only a bit graphic. Maybe it was some type of marketing ploy, who knows. Nevertheless, it remained an intimate look at how a person feels and acts when confronted with unsuspecting horrors.
Lastly, please take note that this is not an exploitation or horror flick. It's an art-house drama that does a pretty good job putting you in the shoes of someone doing something they don't want to. Ever hang out with people you didn't want to, but you stuck around because you knew you'd possibly reap a benefit or two? This is like that, but on a nightmare scale.
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