Review of Joel Lamangan’s ‘Lockdown,’ a film about harrowing pandemic experience

July 19, 2021 Mario Bautista 2756 views

JOEL Lamangan’s latest work, “Lockdown”, is not a feel-good movie, so if you’re looking for mindless shallow escapist entertainment, this is not for you. Filmed in an atmosphere of cruel oppression, it’s a grim bleak portrait of a hapless young man, Danny (Paolo Gumabao), who is pushed against the wall for his impoverished family to survive amidst the corona virus pandemic.

The script by Troy Espiritu succeeds in making us emphatize with Danny’s misery and plight. We first meet him when he arrives in Manila after working briefly as an overseas worker in the Middle East, where he was laid off because of the pandemic.

Instead of joining all the other travellers required to stay in the quarantine facility, he escapes and returns to their coastal community where he first meets up with his girlfriend (Max Eigenmann), then goes home to the shack of his own family.

His dad has become a total invalid after an accident. His mom is a market vendor who cannot work as she has to attend to her sick husband. He also has a younger sister to take care of. And his dad’s hospital bills are piling up.

Although he tries hard to look for a decent, legitimate job, he cannot find any as many businesses closed down due to the virus. He then goes to a former gay benefactor for help. He is referred to Mama Rene (Jim Pebanco), an operator of a cyber sex prostitution ring catering to mostly foreign clients.

He and the other young men working with him are required to do malicious acts in front of a computer camera. Cyber sex work is his only way to earn a living for his family and that haunting moment when he goes to the breakwater and cries quietly while sitting alone on a boulder, we can feel his own humiliation deeply.

Although he is heterosexual, his work as a laptop sex worker is part of the process of his inevitable downward spiral and descent into hell. When their joint is raided by cops, all the boys are arrested. Danny takes the interest of the police chief (Allan Paule) who turns out to be a pervert and takes him home. He is then subjected to further degrading sexual experiences that really breaks him.

The subject matter of this distinctly unsettling movie is not for everyone’s taste. But those who are just looking for the salacious sex scenes showing full male frontal nudity will not be disappointed. All the young men playing sex workers are just too willing to show off their duty-free shortcomings.

We wish the movie is better crafted as it’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s certainly redeemed by Lamangan’s lively mise-en-scene. This includes the sorry-looking coastal town of makeshift shanties where Danny lives and the setup of the sordid cyber sex den where he performs. Also to be commended are the superb performances, led by Gumabao as the main protagonist. You can really feel all the pain and abuse he goes through.

After he is ruthlessly violated, he is just mercilessly thrown on the EDSA sidewalk beside the People Power Monument, which gives the film an overt act of agitprop, a no-nonsense accusatory tone blaming the authorities for the lack of prosperity among most of our deprived denizens despite the so-called EDSA Revolution where folks expected so much change for the better.

We just hope that the saying that ‘What does not kill you will make you stronger’, will hold true for Danny after the harrowing ordeal he is subjected to. We really pity him, but the future remains dark for him (and for the rest of us), what with the crushing reality of our present circumstances with the virus still rampaging unabated.

Gumabao gets great support from Pebanco as Mama Rene, Jeff Carpio as the spurned assistant of Mama Rene who takes revenge on him, Paule as the cruel and perverted police chief and Jess Evardone as Paolo’s ailing dad.

The first local film about the pandemic and shot during the actual worldwide health crisis that is still going on, it’s also a chronicle of our pandemic experience, showing people lining up for government ayuda and guards on quarantine checkpoints who only make life more difficult for ordinary people.

It’s a potent examination of the ravaging effects of poverty, of a diseased body politic, and the toll it takes not just on the marginalized, needy working class, but also on those who grow so depraved in their moral decay because of the unequal distribution of wealth in our society.

A moving melodrama cloaked in gritty realism, the film adequately dramatizes the suffering of our poor disadvantaged folks. The vicious depredations of the urban jungle where perverted predators prey on the willing victims are focused with devastating clarity.

“Lockdown” starts streaming on KTX, Upstream, RAD and WeTV this Friday, July 23.