Serial killer film fights to be seen

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Smaller and Smaller Circles
Nonie Buencamino (R) and Sid Lucero in a scene from Smaller and Smaller Circles

IT MIGHT not have been chosen as one of the official entries of this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) but Raya Martin’s Smaller and Smaller Circles refused to lay down and die as its makers decided to push through with a nationwide release starting Dec. 6, believing that this is one film Filipinos deserve to see.

“Why are we so invested in stories that are not ours? I want to bring the audience back. I want them to come to the theater and relate what’s happening in the film, to what we see and hear around us,” said Mr. Martin as quoted by the movie’s official Facebook page on Dec. 5.

In a lot of ways, Smaller and Smaller Circles is created as a reflection of the times, or, in Mr. Martin’s words, the film “is not just a crime novel, it’s not just commentary. It’s the piece of a puzzle.”

The film is an adaptation of the Palanca-winning English novel by Felisa H. Batacan, Smaller and Smaller Circles. The story started out as a novella in 1999 when it won the Palanca — it was initially published by the University of the Philippines Press in 2002, the same year it won the National Book Award and the Madrigal-Gonzalez award the year after.

But in 2015, the slim 155-page crime/procedural novella was re-published by Soho press and the new edition — now 353 pages long — was launched locally and internationally.

And much like how its main characters, two Jesuit priests who face roadblocks while trying to solve the deaths of several children killed in Payatas, Smaller and Smaller Circles faced challenges when being adapted into film.

“From what I remember now, the shooting went exactly like the movie we were making (I kept telling Ria [Limpjap] and Shinji Elleazar Manlangit about this bizarre theory throughout production),” said Mr. Martin in his Facebook post, noting it took them an entire year to do the film co-written by Ria Limjap and Moira Lang, both of whom also serve as producers of the film.

“It was a series of battles between different groups but we couldn’t guess who played which character. It was also right in the middle of Mercury in retro, if you know what I mean, so for a production that relied heavily on tech and org, things were a constant struggle. We called in an actor too early, he ended up getting mad at me (which in hindsight played well in the movie). Or forgot to call another actor that we ended up getting a new one a few hours before grind. This also turned out to be perfect, one of the most gripping scenes in the movie,” he added.

The film stars Anthony “Nonie” Buencamino as Fr. Augusto Saenz and Sid Lucero (real name: Timothy Mark Eigenmann) as Fr. Jerome Lucero, the two priests trying to shed light on the grisly murders of boys whose bodies are dumped in Payatas. They are joined by Carla Humphries, Ricky Davao, Christopher De Leon, and Bembol Roco, among others.

Because the novel had such a following (the novella is required reading in some colleges), expectations were high — so it was quite a shock when it, along with Loy Arcena’s Ang Larawan, an adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino wasn’t chosen to be part of the MMFF during the first round of selections for the festival.

But while Ang Larawan’s backers tried once again and succeeded in getting it into the annual festival during the second round of selections, the producers behind Smaller and Smaller Circles tried a different tack and decided to do a nationwide release of their own, banking on rigorous social media promotions akin to what TBA Studios did for Heneral Luna in 2015.

Whether they will be able to replicate Heneral Luna’s success still hangs in the air but it’s apparent the film will not go down without a fight — as part of their promotional efforts, the team decided to activate a Facebook Messenger feature where people can actually interact with the film’s serial killer and through conversations lead them to one of the six endings, in the spirit of creating a more immersive experience.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is currently showing nationwide in select screens. For the complete list of cinemas, visit the film’s official Facebook page. — Zsarlene B. Chua