With each film concise and barely reaching the 20-minute mark, this year’s Shorts A program is exploratory, mostly revelatory, and dripping in poignancy. Here are the first set of shorts from this year’s Cinemalaya, ranked.
Soliman Cruz shines in this dimly lit nail-biter that gets too drunk on its own tone to provide any real narrative. Suspense doubles with ambiguity, but there is a very fine line between incertitude and losing your audience completely. The main cast does their best to keep the project afloat, carrying a script that is weaved with mystery but doesn’t entice viewers enough to want to decipher it. The horror is purely visual as opposed to visceral, making for weak scares and overall a forgettable thriller.
Centering on the readjustment to civilian life of a lone ambush survivor, Gatilyo is nothing new. But despite being the nth reiteration of the premise, it feels half-baked. The interjection of scenes from war with moments at home functions as a comparative tool, or a metaphor for how our protagonist now sees the world, or perhaps merely buildup to the reveal at the end, where flashback and the present muddle; but even then it grants the film no real value. Theoretically, it works—the sad beats are where it’s supposed to be, and the scenes made to shock did so, but it remains hollow. It’s reflective yet barely scratches the surface, choosing to ask the audience to feel for characters they don’t even know yet instead of making them worth rooting for. It’s hard not to look for something more.
During the gala screening, director Josef Gacutan mentioned that this film came from a very personal place, and it showed. There is an unmistakable fondness in the narrating voiceover; but that’s not to say this is not completely and utterly heartbreaking. The characterization of the demon worked perfectly for the medium: lines snaking around the frame, appearing and reappearing but never really gone. Our regrets never really leave us, after all.
While the opening scene may have been a carbon copy of Roma—studio logos appearing in soapy water included—this film managed to do what the latter couldn’t: resonate. Disconnection Notice is a love letter to brothers crafted in the precise way you would make love letters to your siblings: never in-your-face, but always, always deeply conditional. Love is very rarely a verbal language, especially between two brothers, and the film understands this and doesn’t take it for granted. The performances feel incredibly lived-in, its impact amplifying once the credits roll and we find out the two leads share a surname: they’re probably brothers in real life.
1. Heist School (dir. Julius Renomeron Jr.)
One would expect overflowing charm from a heist movie set during high school exam week, and Heist School delivers. There’s a lot of comedic potential in coming-of-age—adolescence is already so funny even without the quips—and this film maximizes that. It roots its humor in universality, making it not only a joy to watch but also something to be fond of. I couldn’t stop smiling during its runtime because I recognize these people onscreen; I’ve met these ragtag high schoolers; I’ve met the grim guidance counselor. With its final message being maybe the real heist was the friends we made along the way, this short was crowd-pleasing, brilliantly executed, and a standout.