Cinemalaya 2012 Review: Gino Santos' THE ANIMALS
The Animals is a film of many influences, from Boyle to Brillante. Its director, Gino Santos, is after all a fresh film grad who interned for Captive (2012). His eagerness shows. Every trick is bared like there is no tomorrow, or in this particular case, like he has so much to prove. The film risks being stereotypically style over substance. Fortunately, it's not. While the needless abundance of style turns out to be more of a liability, there's more to the film than the spectacles that fail to hide the undisciplined editing and incongruent cinematography. With the film, Santos reveals himself to be a filmmaker with a lot of both promise and room to improve on.
Santos opens the film with an awkward aerial view of a posh gated subdivision. He then introduces his crew of upper class brats: enterprising but emotionally inert Jake (Albie Casino, who gives a surprisingly believable performance), his kleptomaniac girlfriend Trina (Dawn Balagot), and her angsty brother Alex (Patrick Sugui). In the midst of excitement over college entrance results, random issues bubble to the surface. Lovers' quarrels erupt when Jake forgets to inform Trina his admission to all the top universities, causing the confused girl to raise questions about their future when they both graduate from their private high school. For Jake however, the future he's concerned about is more immediate. He is throwing a party tonight.
The beauty of The Animals lies in the accuracy it depicts a generation. Santos and co-writer Jeff Stelton sprinkle the film with the usual suspects of the troubled youth: the inexplicable consumption of alcohol, the drug use, the violence, the sex, and the betrayals. Then, they lace it with what makes this generation's conflicts unique: the impatience brought about by the convenience technology offers, the insensitivity to promise brought about by the unabashed display of the adults' propensity to corruption the growing immensity of the class divide. A click of the mouse fulfils the duties of advertisement. A father casually and jokingly talks of his political dealings over family breakfast. A group of household drivers gang up to gossip about their employers' embarrassing hedonism.
The most harrowing part of it is that these ills fit within the film's timeline of just a day without being put-on or too coincidental. It only expresses the extent of how rotten society has gotten, and how the future seems to be hopeless as well.
The Animals is hardly unique in world cinema. Several filmmakers have expressed their concern for the future with works that detail generational divide. Fellini has I Vitelloni. Truffaut has The 400 Blows. Kiyoshi Kurosawa has Bright Future. It seems to be a staple for every national cinema to have film that expresses society's worries about the next generation. What sets Santos' film apart is that it is not made from the standpoint of the previous generation but from the perspective of somebody who was or is still there.
The Animals is more a confessional than a cautionary tale from an artist who is removed from the milieu he tackles. It was made from both the pleasures and sins of recent memory. That probably fuels the film's familiarity and energy. The shallowness of the youth masks the very insecurity they naturally possess. Santos bravely expresses the carpe diem John Keating had no guts to warn his students of. Its parting shot, an overburdened glance of the possible repercussions of this youth's wild abandon, could perhaps be Santos' harsh farewell to an evolving lifestyle that welcomes ninja parties, drunken nipples over DSLR-improved pixels, and careless ecstasy. In that case, the film is that fitting graduation.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)