There is nothing new to the violence of youth. Countless films have long since explored the brutality of growing up.
But when director Gino Santos revisits the theme from within the upper-crust of Manila’s privileged youth, the result is a whole other animal in itself.
The Animals is a film that drops us into the life of Jake (Albie Casino), Trina (Dawn Balagot) and Alex (Patrick Sugui); three privileged high-school students seemingly born with a silver spoon in their mouths.
The story begins hours before the biggest party this side of the city, hosted by no less than Jake and his high-strung friend Pierre.
And though the two self-styled masterminds aim to throw the “party of their lives”, they have no idea just how successful they’ll be.
The film is a one way ticket to the self-destruction of its characters, where Santos hands out an all-access pass to each one of his audience.
The film starts off with a caricature-like ridiculousness, with “dude-bro” scenes and “tusok the fishball” dialogue. We’re thrust into a world where its kids are as spoiled as they are entitled, and as superficial as they are arrogant.
As far as the audience is concerned, these aren’t kids suffering from bullying and broken families. These are kids whose primary concern is free alcohol and flattering Facebook photos.
Though Santos runs the risk of alienating audiences with his characters’ pomposity, it’s easy to see that the direction is intentional.
Santos obviously doesn’t want to glorify the students he depicts, but to satirize them to the point of scrutiny.
But as we watch the party and its characters spin out of control, the film quickly tears them down in a way that borders on the sadistic.
And Santos makes us passive participants to his master plan.
Though we laugh at Jake and his friends for their youthful naivety, we blame them for their narrow minds and the very nature of their youth. But once we discover the inevitability of their horrid fate, we realize that none of them – despite their flaws – deserve it.
There is a morbid sense of justice to The Animals, which is simply a roundabout way of saying that it doesn’t have any. Santos rolls the dice on the lives of Trina, Jake, Alex and their friends. The winners come out on top. The losers, however, aren’t so lucky.
To look for an illusionary sense of justice in Santos’ film would be pointless, and a betrayal to the film’s thesis. To Santos, life isn’t fair; and neither is youth.
The Animals could have simply been a depiction of a younger generation’s recklessness, but what makes Santos’ film stand out is that it isn’t quite that simple.
In a particularly inspired scene, the drivers of the characters congregate outside the party venue; and for a brief moment, trade stories of their employers. They gossip and chat, and are appalled by the way their employers carry on.
But like the film’s passive audience, the drivers simply chalk up the evening to a good laugh.
We watch helplessly as Alex folds under the peer pressure of his fraternity, and as Trina tries desperately to make her own way home.
And right when we think that Santos is passing judgment on the whole of Manila’s upper-middle class, his climactic end brings everyone down to its lowest level.
In the end, we’re all animals.
It’s interesting to note that The Animals is easily a film that might have never been. It was the replacement to the disqualified MNL 143, and was eventually shoehorned into the selection when talks of another replacement fell apart.
Santos’ inclusion in the Cinemalaya Film Festival was arguably born out of fate instead of ability, and it at first appeared that Santos had a lot to prove to deem himself worthy as part of the festival’s selection.
Still, Santos manages to rise up to the challenge and craft a film, though uneven, to be an inspired piece of filmmaking.
The film arguably suffers from the roughest technicals in the entire festival. But to the benefit of Santos and his crew, the rawness of Santos’ treatment only helps to highlight the uncensored viciousness of the film.
What we think to be a joy ride through the pompous lives of overprivileged children, becomes a visceral portrayal of how we may all just be guests to the wildest party on earth, with no end in sight.
PARA SA TAMAD MAGBASA:
Despite its rough technicals, The Animals captures the bare and brutal essence of high school life. It’s all fun and games until someone loses their innocence.