Movie review: Fear and loathing in 'The Animals'
It's easy to dismiss "The Animals" as a badly made movie, even easier to think it is nothing but a film about the upper class youth of this country, who do not worry about money, and have nothing better to do with their time than to worry about love and friendship, school and parties. Except that it is all of that, unapologetically so too, though unlike "Ang Nawawala" that is clean and shiny, and seeks an amount of depth in its literal silence, "The Animals" by Gino Santos is just the life and times, the noise, the decadence, of this particular social class and its youth.
Its daring is in the dirty that is here, and it's unlike any we've seen before, least of all in this year's Cinemalaya haul.
Because it's a portrayal of the filthy in youthful abandon that doesn’t point a finger at the usual culprits that are parental neglect or rebellion with a cause. In fact within the universe of the film, everything is rationalized by the mere fact of inexplicability. Why would two teenage boys want to join a fraternity, go through the worst of initiation processes, subject themselves to shame and embarrassment? Why is an intelligent popular girl also a kleptomaniac? Why is she thin, but thinks herself fat? What is the reason for parties put together by rich kids, hyped up via social media, celebrated in the aftermath by photographs to be posted on social media? What is the rationale to this life and times of youthful decadence?
Nothing. There is no rationale. It just is. And I say that with a great amount of difficulty because as with "Ang Nawawala," it took conversations with other people, it took sleeping on it, it took comparison against the other movies that I saw of Cinemalaya 2012 for me to get to this point of re-assessment. Because it does happen, because it is familiar. We know these kids, we might have been these kids, who are in their little bubble where no one and nothing else matters.
Jake (Albie Casiño) is head honcho of a party being organized and hyped up by his group of friends. This might be described as your regular backyard operation except that it is happening in a gated subdivision, in a house turned party venue. Jake’s group of friends become DJ, bartenders, photographers of a party they turn into event, where "event" is about who was there, and how photos will prove enjoyment via exclusivity. Jake tells the photographer that no photo must be deleted, no photo at all. Keep everything, he says.
Meanwhile, Jake's girlfriend Trina (Dawn Balagot) has got her tiny crisis too, as insecure about the way she looks as she is about her boyfriend and their future. They are of course only graduating from high school, which makes these insecurities an exaggeration as they do hold an amount of truth: after all, when you've got no money worries to look at in your future, there really is only love and friendship and looks. Trina is inexplicably a kleptomaniac, a secret that only her brother Alex (Patrick Sugui) knows. The thing with Alex is that he has become willing victim to the initiation process of a local fraternity, making friends with another neophyte in the process, and finding that the only reason to go through the humiliation is the ability to keep all anger in until the next willing victim comes along—random strangers included.
This narrative of youthful trouble is not something that "The Animals" deals with lightly, which is to say that it bravely refuses to resolve anything at all here. Instead it insists on this display of dirt—literal and figurative—and brings it to its logical conclusion of crises. And with no parents to blame for the kind of teens these characters are, what the movie reveals is the fact of self-destruction: the decision to join a frat, the idea of stealing a cellphone out of a stranger’s bag in the ladies room, the predisposition to capitalize on exclusivity, make sense in this narrative, and there is no voice of reason, no sense of a bigger power saying otherwise. The only voice that is here happens in conversations among the teenagers, which are wonderfully real, banter and cursing in Filipino included.
And so it is really just and only this teeny tiny bubble of a party, where things come to a head, on this one day when the characters and their friends are revealed to be nothing but victims of their own bravery, if not their own lack of a sense of consequences. The audience is treated to a narrative of decadence, in teenagers who have no wants or needs, within this particular social class. The latter is crucial to the fact that the parents in this movie are oblivious to, are kept in the dark about, what really goes on in their kids’ lives. Money after all allows you to imagine that the kids are alright, that providing for their needs, allowing them an amount of freedom, is all it takes. Besides there are the drivers you hire to keep your kids safe from one place to the next. Besides there is money that might be used to pay off the security guard who tells your kids to keep the noise down.
There is money. Full stop. It is the answer to, as it is the context of, this world that the teenagers in "The Animals" inhabit. The power of the narrative was how far it carried the notion of the gated subdivision and exclusivity, to highlight almost an autonomous existence of this space and its teenagers. Jake and his group organized the party, hyped it up, sold tickets, took care of the bar and the music, at the same time that they could refuse responsibility for any trouble outside of it. Trina's insecurities are all her own, happening in her room and in front of the mirror and nowhere else. The logical and violent conclusion to Alex's story is borne only of his involvement with the fraternity's initiation process, and nothing else.
The failing of "The Animals" can really only be its having fallen back on the taxi-driver-as-rapist to end Trina's story with. This is not to question its possibility, as it is to highlight that this was the one step taken beyond the exclusive gates of that subdivision, and it meant Trina's demise. If a point needed to be made about sex, if a statement needed to be made about the fate of this otherwise intelligent powerful girl, then the violence against her should've happened within that space that purportedly protects her.
Then it would've been a statement on the dangers of this decadence, that are inexplicable, that are these teenagers not trying to make sense of their lives, but just living it up, as much as they can, given the money they have access to, the exclusivity they grew up within. Then "The Animals" would’ve only pointed a finger at itself, which sounds about right. –KG, GMA News
Katrina Stuart Santiago writes the essay in its various permutations, from pop culture criticism to art reviews, scholarly papers to creative non-fiction, all always and necessarily bound by Third World Philippines, its tragedies and successes, even more so its silences. She blogs at http://www.radikalchick.com. The views expressed in this article are solely her own.