A secret history could be written about movies in which things are not so much unwatchable as unseeable or, at the very least, illegible. The chronicle might include the cameraless work of Man Ray from the Twenties, the indiscernible imagery of Peter Gidal’s 1973 Room Film, or the threshold-of-vision passages characteristic of Philippe Grandrieux. Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay—to use the parlance of the pitch—makes Grandrieux’s Sombre look like a Vincente Minnelli flick. The title, Tagalog for “butchered,” refers to the torture, murder, and dismemberment of a hapless prostitute. She’s kidnapped by off-duty police officers and then transported to a deserted warehouse on the city’s outskirts. Along for the ride, and the promise of some quick cash, is the film’s putative lead—a young recruit, as it happens, who needs money to pay for his wedding.
Luckily, we don’t so much witness Kinatay’s violence as experience it viscerally. The brutal acts, and Mendoza’s literally shadowy characters, are not always visible, but the film’s all-too-graphic audio leaves little doubt about what’s happening. Wild sound, aided by the spot-on punctuation of the score, turns the two-dimensional, often murky rectangle of the theater screen into a seemingly boundless, infinitely dangerous void space. Call it four dimensions of terror.
The film begins in the brightly lit, real-world bustle of a Manila viewers may recognize from Serbis, the director’s previous offering. And, just like Serbis, Kinatay doesn’t do the Philippine tourist industry any favors. But that’s a moot point: if the film doesn’t get a distributor, no one will have the chance to “see” it anyway.
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