Buy Now, Die Later tells five interconnected stories of people with problems who end up stumbling in a strange store run by Santi (TJ Trinidad). Odie (Vhong Navarro) is a photojournalist on the verge of losing his job. Chloe (Alex Gonzaga) is a would-be superstar who can’t sing. Ato (Rayver Cruz) is a chef who ends up in a very strange situation. Pippa (John Lapus) is a gay man trying to find a way to get men to pay attention to him. And Maita (Lotlot de Leon) is feeling left behind as her daughter achieves stardom. Santi offers each of them an item that promises to be the solution to all their problems. But of course, they quickly learn that there is a price.
With five stories to tell, the film clearly struggles to balance the time between each episode. The first two suffer the most. Based on where the story goes, the first episode was always going to be a challenge. On its own, it feels like the premise for a full feature, the story needing time to build to its eventual reversal. Here, it feels heavily truncated, and there isn’t enough breathing room for the twist to really land. The second episode has too large an agenda as well. It offers commentary on show business all the while telling the story of a girl who is almost unwillingly being thrust into the limelight. It’s a really interesting story that never really gets the time it deserves.
But things do get better in the third episode, which is probably the best of the five. It benefits from being a self-contained little tale, a concentrated burst of weirdness that wouldn’t feel out of place as an episode of Tales from the Crypt. The fourth part of the movie also benefits from a pretty straightforward premise. It also happens to be the most outwardly comedic of the segments, which really seems to be the film’s strength. The fifth story is little more than a bridge to getting all the characters together, its horrific twist seemingly coming out of nowhere and leading to not much in particular.
But by the time the film gets the characters together, it does feel fun. The second hour of this film is pretty solid, which is quite an achievement considering the scope of the picture. It mainly works because so much is fun and visually compelling. The production design is just terrific, with every set littered with compelling details. Santi’s store is a real visual delight, as is as the house in the third chapter. This film is beautifully designed, and though the stories don’t always work out, it’s always fun to just look at what’s on screen.
Performances are generally pretty good. Of the cast, TJ Trinindad seems to be having the most fun. He turns up the smarm to eleven playing the unabashedly sinister Santi. His facial expressions are part of the fun here. Vhong Navarro and Rayver Cruz perform well enough. John Lapus sneaks in some actual character work in the middle of all the broadness. Lotlot de Leon is excellent, and Janine Gutierrez manages to do her justice. The weak link in this cast is Alex Gonzaga, who just turns up the volume and never shows anything else.
Buy Now Die Later is a mixed bag at best, but one must give it credit for just how much it does. It packs a lot in there, and even when something doesn’t quite work out, there’s something just lurking around the corner that might be worth paying attention to. I’d actually like to see a longer cut of this movie, one that affords these stories a little more time to breathe. As it is, the movie is at least fun to watch at times, the insane production design and the mostly strong performances giving the film plenty of life.