Festivals, Reviews

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2019: ‘Watch Me Kill’ – Of Fractured Identities and Moralities

The film begins mysteriously. We are introduced to a man, maybe in his late 40s or early 50s, seated in a dimly lit room, talking to an unseen person. The latter is a “principled” killer, he says, and so he trusts them as he offers them a handsome amount of money to end his unfinished business with who he believes killed his child. Right off the bat, Watch Me Kill sets the atmosphere for an unrelenting, violent mood piece that explores the corrupted moralities of those in the underworld criminal society, a dog-eat-dog landscape where identity is sacrificed for survival and humanity is as rare as finding a diamond in the river.

In a cinema heavily saturated with rom-coms and dramas such as ours, Watch Me Kill‘s neo-Western style is a welcome breath of fresh air. It provides the film an enigmatic atmosphere, its slow burn approach further complementing its character study of a woman whose life revolves around violence. Jean Garcia delivers a knockout portrayal of Luciana, the protagonist killer-for-hire faced with contradictions and moral dilemmas with her untimely encounter with Aurora (Junyka Sigrid Santarin). Garcia reminded me of Zhao Tao in 2018’s Ash is Purest White, her eyes speaking volumes of quiet conviction and mental fortitude. Garcia proves that she is one of the most competent actresses working in Philippine cinema with her restrained yet affective performance of a killer wrestling with the two halves of her identity.

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Although the film’s story ultimately offers nothing new, its screenplay has an interesting structure. Save for a questionable and totally unnecessary twist towards the end of the film, Watch Me Kill works as a microscopic introspection on humanity’s perpetual search for freedom. Reminiscent of 2009’s Mother, the screenplay works not so much for plot progression but a slow unravelling of the protagonist’s twisted moralities. Especially commendable is director Tyrone Acierto’s patience in slowly revealing important details in the narrative, a testament to his mature filmmaking sensibilities.

Yet despite all of these, Watch Me Kill‘s strength lies primarily on its near-perfect technical aspects. Rarely do we see a Filipino film so aesthetically on-point, each audio-visual element working in harmonic synchronicity with each other. Director of Photography Marcin Szocinski composes each frame with unbelievable precision, aptly using Super 16mm Kodak to achieve a grainy neo-Western look that reinforces the lawless atmosphere that hovers throughout the entire film. Curtis Williams-Foshee’s editing is nothing short of superb, smoothly transitioning into different sequences with ease and grace. Equally beautiful are the sound design and musical score that further immerse the audience into the film’s unique universe through creative manipulation of audio elements.

However, the film would have greatly improved had it been more geographically aware. For a film that tackles the loss of identity, it ironically doesn’t anchor itself to any definite setting. Acierto sacrifices a sense of place in lieu of stylistic universality and ends up with a film that could have been made in any tropical country. Although there are brief moments that contrast the urban and rural milieus, there is hardly anything to ground the audience into the characters’ own experiences, resulting to an impersonal, emotionally distant film.

Watch Me Kill stands as one of the most memorable genre films in recent Filipino cinema. Its captivating atmosphere and stunning technical qualities, combined with an uncanny if clichéd screenplay, set it apart from the usual psychological thriller and make it a unique exploration of humanity, identity, and morality.

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