There’s something very strange going on in Apocalypse Child. The characters all speak their mind as if they’ve been injected with a truth serum, unashamed of the consequences their words could yield. Everyone acts inappropriately, dangerously flirting with each other to the point of awkwardness. They also fuck those whom they’re not supposed to fuck, succumbing to heat and flesh and unbridled passion, regardless of who gets hurt in the process.
Maybe it’s all the booze. Maybe it’s the copious amounts of weed. Maybe it’s the provincial fresh air that’s lending them this mystical, heady carelessness—a quality that allows the truth to wash onto the shore like wet moss escaping the pull of the tide.
With its myths about the sunny surfing town of Baler, the film makes it clear from the start: this is a story about stories—of how truths and half-truths, storied pasts and shared experiences, can affect, manipulate, and ultimately dictate the course of lives and relationships. Stories, you see, are never told or heard exactly the same way twice. And the people in this film, they become prisoners of the stories they tell themselves and the stories they share with others.
Surf instructor Ford and his young girlfriend Fiona (Sid Lucero and Annicka Dolonius) are spending a blissful summer together. They ride waves in the daytime, smoke post-coital cigarettes and laugh in bed, and seem to have an easy camaraderie with Chona (Ana Abad-Santos), Ford’s young mom. Ford is named after Francis Ford Coppola, whom Chona claims to have had an inappropriate one-night stand with back in the ’70s during the shooting of Apocalypse Now in Baler.
Theirs is a picture of paradise seen only on postcards—sun-drenched, relaxed, and uncomplicated.
But things quickly turn sour. Their quintessential setup is turned upside down when Rich (RK Bagatsing), Ford’s childhood best friend, returns home after the death of his father. With his new fiancé Serena in tow (Gwen Zamora), the homecoming sets in motion a disruptive unearthing of unresolved issues within the friendship, forcing Ford and those around him to confront a tsunami of seething emotions.
The tension is wound so tightly on multiple layers, but never confusingly so. Ford begins giving Serena surfing lessons, which puts a wedge between him and Fiona. The strange motherly attention Chona affords Rich belies a troubling bond that eventually hits a disturbing climax. Ford and Rich, well, they can’t seem to reconcile a deep-seated problem from when they were kids. It might sound like a lot, because it is, and it’s amazing how so much happens in a movie where there’s little to no action. Elements are strategically planted in the beginning that will only make sense when everything bubbles to the surface, exposing the demons of these small town folks.
Director Mario Cornejo elicits superb performances from all his actors. Sid Lucero, who practically has a bloodline’s worth of thespianism coursing through his veins, fits naturally into the role of the philosophical surfer dude. With his indubitable charm, Lucero is able to navigate the shifting tones the movie requires, which is equal parts comedic and tragic. The impish beauty of Annicka Dolonius on the other hand acts as the perfect façade for the inherent wisdom Fiona has yet to discover. When she’s in the frame, it’s her you’re looking at and no one else—a difficult task when you share scenes with the goddess that is Gwen Zamora. Who knew that the Bubble Gang mainstay could act and act so well? Her portrayal of the damaged trophy girlfriend is controlled yet sensitive, a revelation all on its own. Ana Abad Santos and RK Bagatsing are at home in this material—the arthouse, a territory they’ve already claimed and mastered.
The script, co-written by Monster Jimenez, is sharp and playful. Although the dialogue is whip-smart, it is intentionally penned for emotionally unstable characters. Like surfing itself, the characters must manage a balancing act of decisions, trying to keep themselves steady as a wave of turmoil (and the occasional beer bottle or drinking glass) comes crashing into them. As buttons are pushed and secrets are revealed, the ties of the five main characters are tested beyond repair.
And since this is a story about stories, there has to be an ending. And in the end, not all endings are true endings. Because when the credits start to roll, it’s clear that some endings are actually beginnings in disguise.
Apocalypse Child opens tomorrow, October 26, in selcted cinemas nationwide