Director: Sean Ellis
Cast: Jake Macapagal, Althea Vega, John Arcilla
Watch online: Eircom / Virgin Movies / EE / Sky Store / TalkTalk TV / iTunes
“No matter how long the procession, it always ends at the church door.”
That’s Oscar (Macapagal) reciting an old Philippine saying at the start of Metro Manila. Or, as he likes to put it: “If you’re born to hang, you’ll never drown.” Sounds bleak? It is. Sean Ellis’ socially-driven drama is as bleak as it gets. It’s also gripping, tense and really, really good.
Those aren’t words you expect to hear together, but Metro Manila is full of surprises. It starts off as you might expect: bleakly. Poor farmer Oscar is struggling to make ends meet, so he whisks his family away to the titular city in the search of better times. Inevitably, things get worse.
Oscar ends up doing unpaid manual labour, while his wife, Mai (Vega), gets a job as a dancer in a bar.
“I thought you said there were doctors to help with my tooth,” his daughter asks as they get turfed out from their illegitimate home. “In God we trust,” her dad replies – just as a woman is abducted across the street.
Life starts to look up when Oscar finds a job as a security guard – a post he’s deemed suitable for after his armed forces tattoo is spotted on his arm by the overly helpful Ong (Arcilla). Ong takes Oscar under his helmeted wing, guiding him through a tense interview with their intimidating boss.
That’s when things get really bleak.
Indie Brit director Sean Ellis may be directing in another language, but he whips the rug out from under you all the same, taking his slow-moving family drama and turning it into a fast-paced crime thriller. It’s a big leap, but Ellis makes it with small moves; after an hour in the sad company of our defeated, desperate couple, we care about what they do – whether that’s prostitute themselves for their kids or face a team of armed robbers.
Jake Macapagal is wonderfully pathetic as our wimpy lead, a man more spineless than a jellyfish wrapped in a dishcloth, while Althea Vega’s exploited wife increasingly earns our sympathy. Combined with Ellis’ keen sense of location (he shoots Metro Manila with a raw, immediate edge), this is a pressure cooker of poverty and desperation that gets your emotions boiling – then leaves your heart dangling on the edge of your seat.
The procession is long, but Metro Manila damn well gets you to that church door. Then kicks it down. You can bet Ellis has just the same to Hollywood.