Festivals, Reviews

Cinemalaya 2019: ‘Tabon’ – A Confused, Pointless Crime Thriller

A confession: during the first 30 minutes or so of Tabon, actor Xian Lim’s first foray into directing features, I actually thought I’d end up enjoying it. For a directorial debut, it had a commendable patience that I would expect from more experienced filmmakers. The film had this eerie, macabre atmosphere, subtly hinting at the evils lurking in the corner and providing a foreboding sense of danger. Even the musical score, though at times a bit intrusive and distracting, was well-composed. The film, up to that point, was not something I’d never seen before, but it was at least decent—enjoyable even.

Then the controversial torture sequence happened, and it all went downhill. I’m still unsure of what happened, but it seemed like Lim tried to mix the crime procedural drama and the cult horror genres to drastic results. From then on, the film struggled to maintain a uniform tone, quite unsure of what it wants to say except “weird.” It kept introducing plot twists poorly integrated into its narrative for the sake of shock factor but ultimately do not make sense.

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However, more than the incomprehensibility of the film’s narrative, my biggest qualm about Tabon is that it had no definite message. Ironically, the film is ambitious without having any clear ambition, except maybe flex Lim’s ability to direct a feature. Its narcissistic and self-indulgent qualities make the film a case of “art for art’s sake,” and bad art at that.

There are some small commendable bits in the film, such as Christopher Roxas’s and Lao Rodriguez’s good (albeit uninspired) performances as well as Directors of Photography Jethro Jamon and Justin Jaro’s decent cinematography, but these are overshadowed by Xian Lim’s contrived vision and aimless direction. If anything, Tabon is a reminder that no matter how good the technical aspects of a film may be, its core will always be its message; to not have a purpose is to not have made a film at all.

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