I’ve revisited Honor Thy Father this week and I noticed its wet cement cinematography more this time around. I’m not the biggest fan. At least not usually. Director Erik Matti uses this palette in his previous film On the Job. But here it contrasts the colourful plant life in Baguio, a city a hundred miles north of Manila. The flowers in the opening scene look wilted. It foreshadows a film mud and blood. Caked in the faces of its characters but mostly on Edgar (John Lloyd Cruz), the protagonist. In a way, Honor Thy Father is a tribute to John Lloyd’s face.
John Lloyd started out as a teen actor in 1997. He belonged to a factory of ‘bagets’ that ABS-CBN would churn out every year. For the next two decades he would fill in supporting roles in ‘teleseryes’. He would also star in money making romantic comedies. However there’s this recent influx of independent films that are interesting. Twice he has worked with Lav Diaz, one of these projects including The Woman Who Left. There he plays a gender non-conforming person who befriending that film’s ex con protagonist. I’m not sure if he’s the best Filipino actor under 40 working today, since that’s a difficult thing to assess.
But John Lloyd’s certainly the gutsiest, by accident or by intention. So his recent decision to quit the acting business baffles since artistically, he’s having such an upward momentum. If he does leave for good, we’ll have his performance here to remember him by. Here he expresses incredulity while he inadvertently surrounds himself with religious fanatics. That incredulity escalates, Matti reunites with co-screenwriter Michiko Yamamoto to turn Edgar into a literal powder keg. But unlike their hit On The Job, this film burns more slowly while laying out its tensions. And it starts out with Edgar as a man trying hard to reform from his criminal ways.
But this is about the criminal targeting the corrupt. Matti spends the film’s first five minutes on the details pointing to a world full of greed. A stray dog. A teacher using God’s name to reprimand Edgar’s young daughter Angel (Krystal Brimmer). Edgar’s guests grabbing on to pieces of a chicken dinner like vultures, leaving none for him and Angel. What might be more heartbreaking for him is that his wife Kaye (Meryll Soriano) might be part of that culture. She helps her father out in what she thinks is her father’s ‘investment plan’.
I was at first ambivalent at how the film portrays Kaye. Matti’s previous film had its share of strong women while Kaye spends the film’s second half acting shrill. But multiple viewings showed her depth as a woman who will do anything to support her father. The opening scene where Kaye invites guests has her revealing everything about her. She even reveals her miscarriages, to get the guests to support her father’s ‘investment plan. Soriano plays Kaye with such resplendence, knowing when to stand out in her scenes. When Kaye’s father’s death inevitably reveals said scheme, Baguio’s affluent community begins to target her.
There’s specifically a congressman who has kidnapped Kaye and Angel in exchange for the money. While all of this is happening, Edgar notices another deceitful person in their midst. Kaye, and by association, Edgar, are members of a real Church of Yeshua. Bishop Tony (Tirso Croz III) is the Church’s regional leader. The film portrays him in the shadiest light. It doesn’t even bother putting subtitles on while Bishop Tony veers off and speaks in tongues during mass. Bishop Tony takes ‘donations’ to build a church in Manila, but Edgar can see through this racket.
Perhaps it’s the film’s attention to detail that bogs it down. Its pace wore me out a little during this repeat viewing. But we also can use that time to drink in the film’s marble surfaces and landscapes. It waits for the suspense and the muck to enter. Speaking of muck, it’s a film about mob mentality. The same people looting Edgar’s home are the same people who audaciously go to church the next day. It’s an angry film, the transformation to that state like a slow descent. And one that my dad might like.
- Release Date: 2015