18 Mar 2022
Conrad Dela Cruz
Conrad Dela Cruz
Philip Jay Khao, Ronald Campos, Jake Montajes, Kevin Gongob, Ramses Crave
Eskina is a crime thriller which pushes morals to breaking points and exposes the cruelty of a city which won’t let you live in peace.
Car horns blare and lights flash as we’re taken through the back streets and tight alleys of Davao City. Feet hit the ground as our desperate protagonist (Philip Jay Kho) tries to navigate his way out of his confined claustrophobia. Quick push-ins on his face highlight his vulnerability, leaving him exposed.
He’s a drug dealer, having turned to the trade to help out his sister. She needs a kidney transplant, and like everyone around them, they don’t have the money to save her life. Ten thousand pesos will be hard to acquire, and the increasingly dangerous situations he puts himself in aren’t even a guarantee of achieving that. He doesn’t want this life, but with the walls closing in, he has no choice but to continue dealing. Even as he moves from one street to another, every environment feels the same, with looming threats around every corner. Nowhere is safe.
Dela Cruz uses a split screen to directly compare the cause and effect of the drug trade, showing him leaving with the money, and the resulting consumption of heroin by the client. The quick pace of his movement through the streets again contrasts the stillness and decay of the client injecting themselves. This keeps in mind, and in frame, what is at stake for each component of the drug trade, and doesn’t let the audience forget the damage of addiction alongside the pressures of dealing.
The abstract control of labour is indicated by his boss openly fearing his boss. There’s always someone above someone, and the 99% not at the top of the food chain are at the constant mercy of those who are. To compensate for this, and take back what he feels is rightfully his, our protagonist breaks into his boss’s house. The focus on taking, rather than being given, emphasises the finite resources of their profession. Everything has to be taken from someone else, and his success means their deprivation. The only moral decision to be made is determining who deserves to lose. He’s not afraid for this to become violent as well, as the knife he’s carrying shows he’s prepared to kill for the money he needs. A particularly tense moment comes as he has to hide around a corner, with the looming threat of his boss in the background unaware of his presence.
Even the success of making enough money to pay for his sister’s transplant isn’t a guarantee however, as after he drops off the money, all he’s told is “Wait for our call,” leaving him still entirely at the mercy of others. There are no assurances in his life, and after everything he’s had to sacrifice, the cruelty of the system feels too much.
Finally all the watching over his shoulder is not enough, as his murder comes from nowhere. The act of violence is lost to the labyrinth of the city, unseen by anyone. Its brutality is merely enveloped into a world built on the bodies of many other young men who fell to the same fate.
For his killer, this moment is merely an inconvenience, and in a particularly brilliant note, the money they killed him for is gone, leaving them to say “the boss will kill me.” There’s always someone above them in the hierarchy, and everyone is shown to have their own struggle of desperation, pushed to more and more violent acts to survive. The narrative builds to this place of tragedy by painting every action as a sacrifice of some kind. Nothing in the world of Eskina comes free, and everything you gain means someone else’s loss.