J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, July 03, 2015

NYAFF ’15: Violator

Benito “Super Cop” Alano is dying, but not quick enough. The terminally ill policeman will live long enough to see the apocalypse or something even worse in Dodo Dayao’s cryptic and elliptical horror film, Violator (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2015 New York Asian Film Festival.

It is the end of the world and everyone feels lousy, but they do not realize how bad things are yet. In a series of vignettes that initially appear unconnected, we see Alano resign himself to his impending mortality, watch several of his colleagues execute a drug dealer for sport, and witness a number of suicides. Perhaps most distressingly, a mucho pregnant school teacher finds her classroom is mysteriously empty, except for the corpse wearing a boar’s head. Perhaps it has something to do with the Jonestown like cult. They also committed mass suicide, but the grainy VHS footage Dayao presents leads us to wonder if another evil agency was also at work.

Just when we are most confused, Dayao finally reverts to a traditional narrative structure for the third act. The long teased super storm has finally made landfall in Manila, stranding Alano and his problematic officers on their leaky hilltop precinct station (#13, of course). However, the weather outside is the least of their concerns. In their cell, the cops are holding an incredibly disruptive teen, who gives every indication of demonic possession. Whenever he talks, it leads to trouble.

Considering how borderline experimental the initial two thirds of Violator arguably are, it is rather remarkable how effective his locked-in-with-the-evil-one story arc turns out to be. It is reminiscent of Stephen King’s Storm of the Century, but grungier, more intimate, and less annoying.

This is definitely the sort of film viewers have to hang in with, although you could almost come in cold for the third act. However, recognizing certain figures adds to the mounting unease. Frankly, it would not have killed anyone if Dayao had tightened up the early sequences, but the cumulative wtf-ness of them all is rather unsettling. It is not exactly a prime showcase for actors, but Andy Bais is quite memorably haunted as Vic, the station’s old custodian and gopher. Likewise, Reji Hidalgo makes a strong impression as the early roof-jumper. We really don’t want to see her do it, but we’re powerless to stop her.

Even when borrowing elements from the V/H/S franchise’s playbook, Dayao maintains a mood a profound dread. However, his cagey approach to story structure gets a little tiresome. In a genre film, there comes a time to come clean and confirm some basics regarding the stakes involved. Recommended expressly for fully informed patrons of unconventional cinema, Violator screens Wednesday (7/8) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.

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