Offering a radically different view from the tales of crime and poverty that dominate Filipino indie cinema, "The Animals" reps a punchy ride into a booze-, sex- and violence-drenched night with Manila's privileged high-school elite.

Offering a radically different view from the tales of crime and poverty that dominate Filipino indie cinema, “The Animals” reps a punchy ride into a booze-, sex- and violence-drenched night with Manila’s privileged high-school elite. Driven by a high-energy score and fine perfs from a convincing young cast, this debut feature by 22-year-old helmer Gino M. Santos is technically rough but has plenty to say about peer pressure and the desire to be popular. Although the pic is not traditional fest fare, programmers looking to lure young auds should give it the once-over; locally, it has solid commercial potential.

Clocking in at a pacey 80 minutes, the pic gets under way with crisp portraits of three teens in an affluent Manila neighborhood. Apparently studious and sensible, Jake (Albie Casino) promises his parents he won’t stay out too late at the after-school party he’s organized at a community hall. First seen smoking dope before breakfast, Alex (Patrick Sugui) is preparing for his initiation into a fraternity. Alex’s older sister, and Jake’s g.f., Trina (Dawn Balagot), is a compulsive thief, cares mostly about body image and acts more like a sister than a daughter to her trusting mother (Issa Liton).

Waving goodbye to parents who are barely seen again, Jeff Stelton’s screenplay niftily weaves in and out of the characters’ school activities leading up to Jake’s party. The carefree atmosphere of the early segs quickly darkens with scenes of Alex being hazed by frat boys he must address as “master.” Slapped around simply for looking them in the eye, Alex and fellow newbie Marco (John Wayne Sace) are ordered to carry out increasingly cruel and violent acts.

Keenly observing the social pecking order and sense of entitlement among chauffeur-driven rich kids, but never imposing heavy-handed moral judgments, the story comes to a dramatic head at the party, where booze flows freely, restrooms become vomitoriums and unflattering photographs are instantly posted through social media. Every parent’s fear becomes every parent’s worst nightmare when Trina storms out following a fierce argument with Jake, and Alex’s final rite of passage requires him to commit an appalling attack on a fellow student.

Though Santos’ coverage of the action sequences shows inexperience, his visual flair elsewhere and ability to elicit quality perfs in sometimes very unpleasant scenes show promise. Thesping is uniformly strong, with spot-on support by Vangie Martelle and Micah Cabral as Trina’s cool-clique friends.

Tech package is a mixed bag. Lensing is generally, fine but location sound recording is occasionally muffled and could do with some post-synch remixing before further engagements. Standout is the thumping original music by local soundtrack ace Diwa de Leon, with assists from hot DJ Nix Damn P!

The Animals

Philippines

Production

A Cinemalaya presentation of a Stained Glass Prods., Cinemalaya Foundation production. (International sales: Stained Glass Prods., Manila.) Produced by Malou Santos, Nicanor G. Santos, Gino M. Santos. Executive producers, Malou Santos, Nicanor G. Santos, Jeff Stelton. Directed by Gino M. Santos. Screenplay, Jeff Stelton.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Alex Espartero; editors, John Wong, Rona Delos Reyes; music, Diwa de Leon, Nix Damn P!; production designer, Ericson Navarro; art director, Erwin Sanchez; costume designer, Margie Sorio; sound designer (stereo), de Leon; line producer, Jane Torres; assistant director, Aurel Ayson; second unit camera, Maurice Roxas, Frank Sabile. Reviewed at Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival (New Breed -- competing), July 24, 2012. Running time: 80 MIN.

Cast

With: Albie Casino, Dawn Balagot, Patrick Sugui, Vangie Martelle, Micah Cabral, John Wayne Sace, Issa Liton, Bryan Homecillo, Raul Morit, Vangie Torcino, Giovanni Baldisseri. (Tagalog, English dialogue)

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