The opening scene of Ron Morales' bleak, discomfiting kidnapping thriller lays its intentions bare. A little girl begs a man sleeping in a car for food money; he ignores her and answers the urgently bleating cellphone on the dash. Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) has a job to do and it's definitely not aiding children in need.
As chauffer to congressman Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias), Marlon has the unsavory task of escorting home the under-aged girls his boss violates. The devout family man's sin of omission comes home to haunt him when a kidnapping targeting Chango's child results in the mistaken kidnapping of his own daughter, Elvie. Rather than kill his way across the nation like some other popular child theft action thriller protagonists would, the passive (and realistic) Marlon is sucked into the kidnappers' plot, with his daughter's safety motivating him to manoeuvre his boss into following instructions.
As Marlon and Chango are led through the seedy underbelly of the teenage prostitution network of Manila, it becomes increasingly clear that the kidnappers aren't concerned entirely with money.
Through the course of a tight eighty-four minutes, Ron Morales shines a light on despicable political and police corruption and the horrors enabled by passive accessories who are content to shut up and follow orders. It's unflinching, deeply unsettling, and graphic in a way that I'm not sure is entirely necessary, or defensible, but is certain to provoke discussion in any case.
The plot relies on a final reveal that gives new meaning to everything that came before but omits a few minor details that would clarify a few important issues of intent. Even so, this sensitive subject matter is handled with greater finesse and more indomitable realism than any of its Hollywood counterparts.
With strong performances across the board and characters written with very human motivations, Graceland is worth watching if you can stomach the despair.
Graceland screens on Thursday November 8th at 9:55pm at Innis Town Hall. (Imprint Pictures)