Directed by Gio Karlo Birondo and Neo Bryce Largo
Starring Kimberly Mar Barcena, David Shem Calida, Earl Clive Dacal, Sam Kristian Villaver
Short Film Review by Kirsty Asher
This short film is an unexpectedly touching delivery by Filippino filmmakers Gio Karlo Birondo and Neo Bryce Largo. I say unexpectedly because with the film’s synopsis alluding to both inner demons and real demons as well as some unclear storyboarding in the duration of the film, I was under the impression this was of the Horror genre until the last 5 minutes. Nevertheless, St Monica's delivers a very strong message about catharsis through interaction and self-care.
It is in its own way a testament of youth, with its Vice-esque credits graphics and font and young adult cast. It is very clear from the set-up of this film that those involved in its creation feel strongly about the message they are trying to get across to their audience, and for the most part they achieve it.
In St Monica’s, according to the synopsis, is “A group of strangers in a support group talking about their demons, unbeknownst of the real demons they’re facing.” (herein lies the misunderstanding about the genre). The opening is a beautiful, dialogue-free montage showing a young woman studying, getting on with life, falling in love with a man; only for it all to come crashing down when she states simply that she is pregnant and the lover promptly leaves her. This is what leads her to St Monica’s, a ‘Support Group for the Hurt’.
It must be said that the transition from such a beautifully filmed, well-edited and poignant opening sequence to St Monica’s is incredibly jarring. The sound is off and it looks as though it was filmed on an old home video camera. This seems so odd to me, as the ending is a visually impressive bracket to the film along with the beginning, showcasing similarly professional camerawork and lighting. The technical aspects between these brackets are woefully hit-and-miss. The concept, however, is strong.
As I said, the storyboarding is a bit uncertain, to the extent that explanation when needed is not given and the exact genre became unclear. One of the characters has flashbacks to a Groundhog Day-style revisiting to his girlfriend’s murder. Another has visions of being murdered by his girlfriend, and the third privately recounts being infected with a cannibalistic virus which leads to his imprisonment unless he sups on the flesh of humans. Because there is no clear establishment of why these people are meeting, other than because they are ‘Hurt’, the tone gives the impression that there is some kind of murder-mystery-cum-zombie-apocalypse side of this story.
What is actually going on here is an exploration of their individual psyches, and the ways they have attempted to cope with personal problems through a fantasy setting: the first boy’s girlfriend committed suicide, the boy who was ‘murdered’ was in fact cruelly left by his love. Perhaps the most poignant is the boy with cannibalism is in fact suffering with anorexia, and his imprisonment is actually imposed on him so he will simply eat something. The girl is revealed to have had a miscarriage when she was hit by a car.
Despite the uncertainty of the storyboard there is some beautiful writing here as well as some astonishing special effects and makeup. The directors clearly know how to craft a thought- provoking image, and the message it ends with telling people to open up and talk to someone about the challenges of life is an urgently necessary one.