Dec 12, 2017

[Movies] Smaller and Smaller Circles (2017) Review

Good Filipino movies are hard to find since it's a lot more cost-effective to invest mainly in popular stars while scrimping on story since you rely on the star power of the personalities to draw audiences. Movies that begin with interesting stories or explore difficult subjects struggle to find funding and get themselves out there. Completing the movie is hard enough, but then you have to fight to get screen time when cinema operators find it's more proftable to focus on international blockbusters or those aforemented star-driven movies.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is a good movie that's very hard to watch not because of its content but more because it's literally difficult to catch a screening. Case in point, the only theater in the BGC area showing the movie was Market! Market! and that one cinema only showed the movie in the afternoon, with a more mass-market movie taking the more lucrative evening slots.

But this is a movie that deseves to be seen. But by the time you read this review it may already be too late.

Synopsis: Smaller and Smaller Circles is a crime movie directed by Raya Martin. The screeplay was written by "Moira Lang" and Ria Limjap as based on the F.H. Batacan's Palanca Award-winning novel of the same name.

The movie begins witht discovery of two corpses at the Payatas dump site. They're two young boys whose bodies have been horribly mutilated given the removal of their faces, hearts and genitals. To aid in their investigation, the NBI reaches out to the Jesuit priest Father Gus Saenz (Nonie Buencamino), one of the few forensic anthropologists in the country. He is accompanied by Father Lucero (Sid Lucero), a psychologist and professor.

Together they begin to form a pattern in the deaths - linking not just the two bodies but several other deaths in the months prior. As all cases involve street children living in the depressed community, no one had really paid atttention until now. But forces at the Bureau are hostile towards their assistance and it seems an uphill struggle for the two priests to unravel this mystery. Their only real help comes in the unlikely form of journalist Joanna Bonifacio (Carla Humphries), who was once a studen of Saenz in Paris. And they have to act quickly as the killer will kill again despite the belief that the Philippines does not create serial killers.

What I Liked: The story is quite clever and the journey of discovery is quite intriguing. We follow the priests through their investigation and are there at each moment of discovery as more clues are unraveled. And in this regard one can appreciate the work that went into the original book that was translated into something magical on the screen.

Sid Lucero's performance as, coincidentally, Father Lucero, is a great one with a lot of fun moments. He's our progressive priest who has no hesitation in hiding his disdain for police inefficiency and other such abuses. I just wish we better understood his inabilty to sleep well.

The movie has great mood setting to it and the scoring works quite well in setting the pace of things and driving the story forward. A good thriller is felt in your bones and music plays a very large part in that so kudos to team behind this movie.

Bonus item: I loved how even the English dialog had subtitles, as at times they had to translate Filipinisms like "blotter" as "police report was filed"and others.

What Could Have Been Better: There were still some odd beats in how certain lines were delivered by Buencamino and somewhat antagonizing characters like Ricky Davao as Cardinal Meneses or the near-comical delivery of the members of the NBI. A lot of inconsistent performances in the movie that let us with somewhat dissonant beats in an otherwise beautiful symphony of story.

I'm not 100% sure how I feel about how the serial killer was handled in this movie. We get a lot of disturbing voiceover from his perspective, but these are often juxtaposed with scenes of Father Lucero having bad dream or going through his day. When we do get to the reveal at the end and the inevitable confontation, I'm not sure if the scene had been shot in a way that would have made sense from the point of common logic.

TL;DR: Smaller and Smaller Circles is a great movie and a rare gem in Philippine cinema as it challenges you to think. The movie isn't perfect but it still achieves a lot with the tools they had been given. Thus the movie still deserves a great 5 disturbing murders out of a possible 5.

P.S. Do petition your local theater to screen the movie if you find it's not available. Public clamour is the best driving force to help support independent films such as this one.

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