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BDSM in the time of ML

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By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

Movie Review
ML
Directed by Benedict Mique, Jr.

BENEDICT MIQUE, Jr. the writer and director of the acclaimed Cinemalaya Festival entry ML (which stands for Martial Law) uses the popular framework of the standard teen slasher horror thriller to get his message across. It is an inspired choice. In that revered form, a bunch of attractive young people are inadvertently trapped somewhere, then one by one they meet a gruesome end. The good or virtuous teen is spared. As in fairy tales with a moral lesson to tell, the youths who die deserve it. They are usually fatally flawed to begin with: obnoxious bullies, disrespectful of their elders or of authority, criminally inclined or sexually promiscuous — generally all of the above. A recent local example was Topel Lee’s Bloody Crayons (2017) based on a popular wattpad novel, which unexpectedly had the audience ROFL. For Mique’s film though, any elicited laughter is nervous and hollow because of the dark seriousness of his subject.

In Mique’s (torture) chamber piece, there are only three young people. Prestigious as it is, the Cinemalaya grant of P1 million for a full-length feature doesn’t exactly afford a cast of dozens. Most of the film takes place in retired Metrocom Col. Jose Zabala dela Cruz’s (Eddie Garcia) basement which has all the features of the notorious safe houses, such as a garden hose for the water cure, an electrocution device for the torture colloquially called Meralco, even an ice plant somewhere which produces blocks large enough for a person to sit on. These are teaching aids in Mique’s lesson plan to disabuse historical revisionists about the supposed glory days of Marcos Martial Law. The Colonel’s basement is his classroom. His three young captives undergo a crash course in the syllabus of Marcos Martial Law torture techniques.

Mique has Garcia ham it up, alternately as the darkly frowning too-obvious villain, the dispassionately efficient inflictor of pain, the wry socio-political commentator on how Americanized today’s tibak (activists) are even as they continue to blame the US for the Philippines woes. The secret monster who lives next door is also an affectionate lolo (grandfather). One of the film’s most suspenseful sequences, and most iconic of the horror genre, is when his apo (grandchildren) play hide and seek right outside the basement. Like a true sociopath, the shape-shifting Colonel covers his tracks. His loving daughter never suspects what’s deep in the recesses of their very middle-class family home. Mischievously, Mique has Rafa Siguion-Reyna play the Colonel’s son-in-law as an avid EJK enthusiast, relishing images of slain addicts on his phone. Siguion-Reyna is the grand-nephew of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos’s Secretary of Defense and a lead player in the Marcos Martial Law team.

The worst of the ML victims is the mouthy Marcos Martial Law fanboy and ka-DDS (Diehard Duterte Supporter) Jaze (Henz Villaraiz) who unabashedly champions the rule of the strong men in our nation, and disses their well-meaning teacher (Joji Lorenzo). Spoiler alert: in a black comedic touch, Jaze ends up as na-tokhang (killed during a so-called drug encounter). His friend Carlo (Tony Labrusca) was just out to do his homework by interviewing the Colonel about Marcos Martial Law. He didn’t have much knowledge or any strong opinions on the subject. He stands in for the many uninformed fence-sitters whose open-mindedness or willful blindness gives Marcos Martial Law apologists the benefit of the doubt.




Mique’s stance is that even when Filipinos were not enablers or beneficiaries of Marcos Martial Law, even if this happened in the last century, they must not be indifferent, neutral, silent, or ignorant about this dark period in our history. In the film’s driven narrative, the innocent may suffer as a result, as does Carlo’s girlfriend Pat (Lianne Valentin) who is lured into the Colonel’s evil trap through fake SMS he sends using her boyfriend’s phone. The famous quote by Martin Niemoller about those who do not speak out in the face of evil comes to mind, “Then they came for me — And there was no one left to speak for me.”

To Mique’s credit, he has chosen to speak out, and in a language and form that hopefully reaches and touches today’s youth — two thirds of our population grew up or were born after Marcos Martial Law. True, he plays upon fear but it is only through pain or art that the lesson sticks. Mique uses his art to get an important lesson through to an audience who generally don’t read learned texts, or even the newspapers. But they do watch TV and one hopes that this is where ML ends up because you could count the people watching it in the cineplex on your fingers. It’s an important lesson about history nightmarishly repeated. That is the fate of those who don’t learn from history itself. Harsh.

* BDSM — Bondage, Domination, and Sado-Masochism

MTRCB Rating: R-16