Friday, August 9, 2019

Pandanggo Sa Hukay

♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Elena (Iza Calzado) is a graduate of Midwifery and works at a local clinic in Ternate where she has been aiding women in giving birth for the last four years. Being a single mother, she decides to pursue other opportunities such as applying for an opening for a nursing aide in Saudi Arabia. She informs her boss and takes a leave of absence for the interview. Even then, she continues her regular job at the lying-in clinic and even helps her group practice their dance number for the company Christmas party, which is her own take on the folk dance Pandanggo Sa Ilaw. Preparing for the assessment the following day, she forgets her PRC ID on the clinic’s printer and returns to retrieve it, only to be abducted by the notorious Etibak Gang which has been terrorizing the local community for a long time now. What follows is a long night of dancing with fate as she fights for her survival.

In contrast to last year’s Distance which was so subtle in terms of acting style and overall feel, Pandanggo Sa Hukay gives Calzado an avenue to showcase something more intense and relatable. Breathing life into the role of a mother who wants a better life for her child, her struggle for survival gives you enough motivation to root for her. Given the scenes involving violence and altercations, there is enough stimuli to keep the audience at the edge of their seats as they wait for the eventual outcome of her predicament.

The first half is kind of boring with an attempt on punchlines care of Calzado’s co-stars. The premise is established; the threat is made clear, although you might have already seen this in the film’s trailer. The second half deals with the answer to your most important question: Will she survive? You also get the reason as to why she is kidnapped in the first place. The narrative does not attempt to be anything more than it should be. In the same style used in F#*@bois, you get entangled in spur of the moment scenes as if you were witnessing the crime unfold in real time.

It’s annoying, but perhaps this is a personal thing. Don’t we just hate low-life scumbags who prey on ordinary people trying their best to survive on a daily basis? In this regard, Calzado’s co-stars obviously do a great job in portraying the criminals who do her wrong, because you just end up hating them so much for being the insufferable cancers of society that they are. While we live in a dog-eat-dog world, nothing justifies the use of violence or crime as a means for survival. But then again, nobody said that life is fair.

We are no strangers when it comes to such gangs and their activities. After all, we still reside in a third world country where you must hustle every day to survive. Most of the actors who portrayed the gang members except for Mercedes Cabral are active in the local theater scene, so we already know that they can all act. The intensity seems a bit too much for film in some scenes, perhaps due to their theater background, but we appreciate the added tension that such acting style entails. It keeps your adrenaline pumping somehow.

Overall, Pandanggo Sa Hukay is a good suspense thriller that relies on mundane daily realities instead of the occult to evoke a response from its audience. The attempt at comedy falls flat in some scenes, even though the audience still seemed amused. It might not work that well in the mainstream because the scenes and the way they are handled seem more fitting for a soap opera where such plot devices and styles help sustain the short attention span of its viewers for free. Still, it’s one of the more exciting entries in Cinemalaya this year.

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