Magazine article Screen International

'Underground': Tokyo Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Underground': Tokyo Review

Article excerpt

A family fight for survival in their home amongst the gravestones of a Manila cemetery

Underground

Dir/scr. Daniel R Palacio. The Philippines. 2017. 84 mins.

In the Manila cemetery at the centre of Underground, poverty-stricken families don’t merely take a walk amongst the tombstones - they sleep, eat, work and live alongside the dead. A grim, gritty and emotionally galvanising feature debut by Daniel R Palacio, this Filipino offering plays like Brillante Mendoza’s raw social realist best meets The Florida Project’s glimpse at the society’s overlooked denizens meets a morbid, moving heist film - and it’s a taut, tense and terrific combination. That Mendoza executive produces and acts as creative consultant is evident in every frame, but his protégé proves an impressive new talent in his own right.

Underground presents its resting ground-turned-residence with an unflinching gaze.

While there’s no shortage of movies chronicling the dire depths endured by the struggling poor, be it in The Philippines or elsewhere, Underground carves its own niche courtesy of its location - and the feature should carve out considerable global festival play as a result. A small film that digs deep to leave a substantial imprint, it has already jumped from San Sebastian’s New Directors sidebar to a Tokyo berth. General theatrical prospects might not be as promising outside of its homeland, but this is an effort that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

With its labyrinthine stacks of sealed coffins in every direction, Palacio’s feature catches the eye and sparks intrigue from the outset. Its surroundings are no flight of filmmaking fancy, with the real-life spate of squatter settlements springing up amongst graveyards well documented in recent years, and actual figures inspiring the characters seen navigating their towering sprawl.

From desperate inhabitants breaking through cement to rob bodies of gold and jewellery, to children playing between mausoleums and to mini-households set up in casket-filled crypts, Underground presents its resting ground-turned-residence with an unflinching gaze. …

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