Richard Somes’ “El Peste” won the SM People’s Choice award in this year’s Sinag Maynila Film Festival, plus an award for Best in Production Design.
The film is crude, with very amateur dialogue and some amateur acting performances, which includes sing-songy dialogue reminiscent of movies from the past three decades. But, surprisingly, its entertainingly campy.
Abner (Mon Confiado) is a pest control worker who falls for his customer, Viola (Jean Judith Javier), a battered wife who enjoys wearing skimpy clothes. It’s probably summertime? The feeling is mutual, and the two end up having a steamy affair, with Abner making sure there are enough rats in Viola’s house to warrant his repeated presence.
Production design is lovely, even if it feels as if I were watching a pirated VHS; the quality of the movie is very poor, but it somehow complements the amateur feel of the movie.
Despite the glaring technical flaws, Somes knows how to build tension. You can sense Abner’s growing obsession with Viola, and you anticipate the consequence of Abner’s evil deeds.
The movie’s antagonist is not the pack of rats, but Viola’s husband Dido (Alvin Anson), a black-belter high school coach that beats his wife because he greatly suffers from rising electricity bills, school budget, and, of course, rat infestation.
The dialogue and some of the sequences are so crude that you’ll find yourself laughing, wondering if this is some form of dark comedy, or pure slapstick, or a parody of an ’80s or early ’90s sexy movie. When Viola seductively touches Abner’s arm and the music soars, it’s hilarious. Dido, especially, is funny than scary.
Supporting actors fill the blank spaces of the narrative, like Leon Miguel as the mandatory best friend, Tots; Tikoy Aguiluz as the boss who does nothing but open and close his folder, or handing a slip to Abner.
But there is a touch of cleverness and playfulness in the movie even if it sometimes feel like a high school production. You also become invested in Abner’s obsession and wonder about his next plan. Will Dido end up exterminating him? Will Viola run away with him? Will the rats win in the end?
In one of the earlier scenes, Abner observes a rotting ceiling fan in Viola’s house, rattling loosely and dangerously, like Abner’s self-control. From time to time, Somes gives us a glimpse of this fan, like a character itself.
“El Peste” is a comical dark satire. With humor both intentional and unintentional, the result is fun entertainment. Silly, but nevertheless holding your attention and curiosity. But what truly redeems this movie from its many little pesky flaws is its brilliant ending.
3 out of 5 stars
Sinag Maynila Film Festival: March 7 to 15, 2018, in select SM Cinemas