Magnus Snyder (Ethan Salvador) tells Felix (Khalil Ramos) to keep an eye on Magnus’ younger brother Maxim (Jameson Blake) and hooker of a mother, Demetria (Ana Capri). They are on a beach; a few distance away from them Maxim is yanking one of Demetria’s arms, trying to pull her into the water. Magnus goes to change, leaving a distracted-looking Felix, his eyes not on the slowly submerging Maxim and Demetria, but on the spot where Magnus had been. Magnus’ words of caution are not made as an expression of a casual familial concern: It is from a place of real, impending danger. Someone is going to get murdered.
Felix, a film archetype of an intelligent, reserved boy, keeps a journal, narrating in mythologizing English his experiences with the Snyder brothers, who arrives as new students in Felix’s school, stirring students and teachers alike with their glorified Caucasian-ness. Felix meets the brothers, who asks him to help them in their assignments for a dollar price. As a result, Magnus and Felix spends a lot of time together, and a friendship develops.
The first half of the film presents not only how the friendship between Magnus and Felix progresses, but on Felix’s growing feelings for Magnus: He finds a friend, and finds something more. Felix’s journal which boasts of his wide range of vocabulary serves as a lens with how Felix acts vis-à-vis the Snyder brothers, a sort of a gravitational dance, in which the power dynamics of desire and obsession, propels the characters into and away from each other. Felix must suppress his desire perhaps to continue to be friends with Magnus or because he could not fully accept who he is. This can be glimpsed where Magnus runs into the woods after learning that he could not go back to the U.S. Felix follows him, and dares to express his thoughts on the reality of staying, which could be a subtext of “please stay with me”. Magnus vents out, stating his dislike for “this shitty country”. The following day, Magnus keeps his distance. Felix constantly has to keep everything contained through his words, in written ink, otherwise his relationship with Magnus might be in danger: What if Magnus finds out he likes him?
We also see shifts of power throughout the film such as when Maxim takes Felix in an isolated place, where in exchange of Felix coming to them to the beach (the place where Demetria is planned to be killed), Maxim strips off all his clothes and upon the Felix’s further command to “make it hard”. Maxim, who usually has the power, accedes and masturbates in front of Felix. However, this only magnifies Felix’s power of voyeurism, which he normally exercises through writing. After, masturbating, Maxim punches Felix on the stomach to assert control, but the deed, nevertheless, is done.
The scenes between Magnus and Felix, the rural scenes, and the big spaces are reminiscent of “Brokeback Mountain” where desires or the constructs which rule on desire are made subject to imagery of nature, away from the scrutinizing glare of society, wherein the manifestation of self becomes more pronounced. Magnus and Felix are able to talk to each other unhampered by what people will say. The scenes romanticize their blooming friendship, or perhaps how Felix sees his relationship with Magnus.
Felix’s journal also serves as a lens or a commentary of our colonial identity or post-colonial identity. Our worship of the Caucasians and the Caucasian-looking is evident with how the students and teachers fawn over the brothers. This is taken with disgust by Maxim, who although had relations with a teacher himself, states how they do not belong in the Philippines. He witnesses the gullibility of everyone around him and how he could control them with his dollars and looks. Is he disturbed by how easy for everyone to worship him? Or is it because he wants to be worshiped elsewhere? No matter what the answer, his dislike for the Philippines impelled him to kill his mother. He and his brother can only go back to the U. S. if their mother dies while they are still minors. The pursuit of his motive is made apparent by the unnerving color of red: His face seems to be capture hellish red, from the light of a burning fire, or the artificial light of a car. He reveals his plan to Felix who requests his assistance with his plan. Felix refuses, but sees Maxim in a hotter light: Malevolence had never been more attractive. The mother is killed, but the plan goes awry: Magnus drowned trying to save their mother.
But a few moments before Magnus’ death, when he left to change, unbeknownst to him, Felix followed him to the shower, instead of keeping an eye on Maxim and Demetria. The intelligent boy was possessed by his feelings for Magnus, rationality slipping away as result of his own suppression. Felix opens the door to the full nakedness of the wet Magnus. Felix steps into the shower, touches Magnus, who looks confused. He gets angry, lashing out on Felix for leaving Demetria with Maxim. Magnus shoves him into a corner, stares at Felix for a moment and leaves. Felix cries desperately, broken-hearted.
Such was Magnus’ shock that when Felix touched him, he remained frozen, letting Felix’s fingers roam his body. “Let me touch you,” says Felix. But Magnus’ pauses seem to me, and there is substantial likelihood that I must have imagined it, that perhaps he liked Felix as well. He paused when Felix touched him and paused again when he pushed Felix into the corner, looking at him into his eyes. Was there something more than friendship for Magnus? We could never tell. The tragedy is both his death and a question that could never be answered.
Mourning and angry, he confronts Maxim, who he initially recognizes as Magnus, and is wearing a red hoodie. Felix shouts at him, cursing at him at the top of his lungs. Here, we see the emotions which had become so entangled and contained within Felix are released through the many putangina mo’s, and his angry punches at Maxim’s face. We do not see him punching Maxim, the camera focuses on Felix’s face, and we see how he was broken, we see his face crumbling. He stops, after many punches, and there was a moment where we are made to think whether he managed to kill Maxim. But we see Maxim’s face again, bloodied and crying. That was the last time everyone saw Maxim, his mysterious disappearance mythologized. The film cuts into a scene where Maxim is caught on fire while standing up and seemingly unhurt. Finally, fire and Maxim are united.
The ending was brilliant. Felix stands at the edge of the cliff, a rushing river separates him from Magnus who is on the other side. He strips off his clothes. Magnus is waiting, watching on the other side. And the movie ends.
The stripping off of clothes struck to me as a metaphor of acceptance of the self. Like Felix was saying, here I am, naked. I am myself. His self-repression was about to come to an end. So did he jump? In order to get to the other side to be with Magnus, he must dive into the water and swim across. And it was in water where Magnus died.
The film gave so many things, but it was how it stitches them together that it did not become so ridiculously unbelievable.