BUY NOW, DIE LATER (Randolph Longjas, 2015)
In a film festival that has come to be associated with ridiculousness in recent years, "Buy Now, Die Later" arrives as a much-needed breath of oxygen. The film turns the horror-comedy genre on its head, while also remaining faithful to a moral resolution sans the preaching.
"Buy Now, Die Later" benefits greatly from a strong, tightly-wound script, and in the horror genre, where tropes and cliches perpetuate themselves, innovation is key. Five equally interesting characters are linked by a mysterious shopkeeper named Santi (TJ Trinidad), who provides them with objects that will grant their hearts' deepest desires.
Segmented into five interdependent stories, "Buy Now, Die Later" uses the five senses as its jump off point, designating one per character and allowing each of them to be slowly terrorized by their own sources of pleasure.
The film still contains familiar horror tropes (zombies, cannibals, puppet masters, haunted objects) yet director Randolph Longjas and screenwriter Ronald Allan Habon uses them in the most absurd of situations that they cease to exist as tropes. The film exceeds expectations most of the time because of the filmmakers' solid vision of what the film should be.
John "Sweet" Lapus dominating most of the film is a no-brainer. Lapus, who is a regular on horror comedies knows full well how to tow the line between terror and humor. Here, however, he is allowed a bigger leg room to fire one side-splitting joke after another because Pippa, the character he plays is three-dimensional. One might feel inclined to empathize with Pippa and insist for his happy ending because of the realness of the role. Take away the jokes, Pippa could be your friend, or your neighbor, or a random co-passenger in the bus.
One other player who deserves recognition is Janine Gutierrez, playing a younger version of her real-life mom Lotlot De Leon. De Leon's Maita, who is mother to Alex Gonzaga's Chloe, transforms into a younger incarnation, and even if we see Janine Gutierrez acting and uttering her lines as the younger Maita, she perfectly captures her older self's gestures and manner of speaking.
The production design is a whole other character in itself. Santi's antique store really looks like an antique store, complete with the eerie vibe of collective memorabilia (and perhaps, history).
Pong Ignacio, who also shot "Heneral Luna" pays great attention to detail. In the rare events that the film does get creepy, the frame relies on atmosphere, on the unknown, on building tension. When Chloe gets lost in limbo, the camera slowly follows her approach until she finds an exit that quickly distances itself from her.
More comedy than horror, "Buy Now, Die Later" proves to be a two-hour escapist ride that doesn't dumb down its audience. Randolph Longjas brings his sharp wit and gift of observation from his debut film "Ang Turkey Man ay Pabo Rin" and applies it here, considerably a much bigger production, on a much grander premise.
I only have minor issues with the execution of some of the effects and fight scenes, and with Santi's monster voice that doesn't seem terrifying. Luckily, the insanity of every sequence never lets up. Plus, the cast seems to be having fun making the film that like Santi's antique store, everything fell into place.