Sunday, January 31, 2021

Midnight in a Perfect World

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Sometime in the near future, Manila is considered by many as almost-utopia, but not without its fair share of urban legends. With an overreaching curfew in place, certain parts of the city regularly experience an electrical blackout right after midnight, followed by the disappearance of some people never to be seen or heard of ever again. Buddies Jinka (Glaiza de Castro) and Tonichi (Dino Pastrano) are just leaving the residence of their drug dealer when they see a gang of goons enter the compound. The duo rendezvous with two other friends, Mimi (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) and nurse Glenn (Anthony Falcon), when the streetlights start to go off around them. Rattled, the group searches for one of Manila’s safe houses for refuge and to avoid being detained, at least until the next morning. As Jinka, Mimi, and Glenn find themselves in a safe house with a mysterious woman named Alma (Bing Pimentel), they notice that their friend Tonichi is nowhere to be found.

I watched this film with absolutely no idea what the heck it is all about. After seeing it in full, I still don’t have an idea what the heck it is all about. Or perhaps it was just crafted in a way that leaves it open for so many different interpretations. In any case, I absolutely loved it. Seldom do we get such mindfuckery of this caliber from a local filmmaker. Who knew that they could come up with something cerebrally titillating and at the same time gloriously vague? Suffice it to say that I am amused. Really, really amused.

So, what the hell did we just watch? I can narrow it down to three theories: 1) Psychedelic overdose hallucination; 2) Alien abduction; or 3) Fascist government gone wild. It is not that easy to say if any of these three would be the best explanation, but the subtle clues seem to point to that direction. Or perhaps we can even argue that the whole narrative is a combination of all three. Again, the movie is ambiguous like that, and maybe that is the intention of the director after all, some sort of choose your own adventure kind of thing.

The obvious reference to a drug dealer and his claim that what ever it is he is peddling makes LSD seem like “baby aspirin” is already a dead giveaway that there are illegal drugs involved. Without knowing much about any of the four narrators aside from them being friends, who is to say that this is even a reliable narration of events after all? What if the entire film is just one trippy drug-induced euphoria and what we are seeing is a simple manifestation of a psychedelic psyche, experienced by an individual or a group?

The alien abduction theory also makes sense because of several scenes where you see actual aliens, or at least what the filmmaker imagines an alien to be: drooling in black tint with uneven limbs and strange form of motion. However, I do not really buy this theory as much as I do the other two because as already stated, these extra-terrestrials could very well be figments of someone’s hallucinations. Even so, this angle ups the weirdness factor one notch, for sure.

The third theory of a fascist government gone wild seems to be the most plausible hypothesis. Going down this path gives the film a sense of social relevance that makes it more than just an unrelatable thriller. We can even argue that the aliens are metaphors for various government actors, an extra-terrestrial reimagining of a political concept that would otherwise be a bit difficult to grasp. Or then again, it can be all of the above. The film is open-ended and you will not be getting any answers to most of your burning questions, which makes the material rife for discussion. Let your imagination run wild!

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