“The Animals” – 2013 New York Asian Film Festival Review

Sex, drugs and…techno?  Such is life for the young elite of a Filipino town in director Gino M. Santos’ debut full-length film “The Animals” (2012).

About to graduate from high school, Jake (Albie Casiño), Trina (Dawn Balagot), Leslie (Micah Cabral), Cara (Vangie Martelle) and their friends all live stereotypical frothy lives, where the consequences of bad decisions can be resolved with a little money in the right hands.  However, reality finally bursts through their bubble at a massive alcohol-drenched party planned by the teens, although one wonders how much of an impact the sad end of one of the girls will truly have before everything reverts to the status quo.

“The Animals” is not a groundbreaking movie – the theme of rich teenagers with too much money and too little common decency has been explored before.  The major difference with Santos’ version is that it is based in the Philippines, a country where poverty and corruption remain major societal issues.

Taking this into consideration, the lunchroom conversations about relationships and college acceptances amongst this group of friends sound even more naive.  Does Trina have to stand in front of the mirror in her room and pinch her minuscule “fat rolls?”  Does Jake really smirk and congratulate his friend when he confirms that his uncle can “take care of things” to allow their party to go beyond curfew hours?  Watching these affluent, self-centered children makes you want to stand up in the darkened movie theater and throttle them until they come to their senses.  In one telling scene, their family chauffeurs band together to pass the time, making fun of their charges’ lack of awareness while waiting for them to exit the party.

Ultimately, the movie does succeed in conveying the particular pains, awkwardness and ultimate glories of being young, rich and oblivious in the Philippines.  The acting abilities of this teenage cast have much room for improvement, but it does not hinder the director’s message, especially when he uses close-up shots of ants swarming over an animal carcass as a metaphor for real-world cruelty.  After the last strobe light has turned off and the last plastic cup has been drained of vodka and soda, it is obvious that these teens have not learned anything at all.  The adults watching the movie may not have either.

“The Animals” screens at the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival at Lincoln Center on Tues., July 2, at 2:45 p.m., and again on Wed., July 10, at 10:45 p.m.  Tickets are available at filmlinc.com.