Apocalypse Child takes place on the beaches of Baler. Fiona (Annicka Dolonius) is in town for her sick grandmother. While she's there, she falls in love with surfing instructor Ford (Sid Lucero), a legend of the local scene. The two seem really happy together, but things get messy when Ford's childhood friend Rich (RK Bagatsing) rolls back into town, ostensibly to take his father's place in politics, but also to settle some old issues. Rich introduces his fiancée Serena (Gwen Zamora) to his old friend, and asks him to give her surfing lessons. And as all these characters spend more time with each other, the more their tortured pasts seem to rise to the surface, causing all sorts of personal harm along the way.
The hook to Apocalypse Child is a bit of apocryphal trivia regarding the shooting of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Apparently, the surf scene in Baler began because of the production, and the film takes this legend and tells a larger story about the relationship that people have with the past, about an insular community that would rather weave myths than confront difficult truths. This is a film where the past bears the force of a tsunami, where the truth is lurking just beneath the placid surface of stories, threatening to destroy everything. And these characters, these surfers of personal pain, are forced to ride the waves of self-destruction, living in the wake of everything that's been lost.
There isn't really much plot to this film. This isn't a film that lives on what happens next, because what happens next is already inevitable. There is almost never any question of what these characters are going to do. Their choices are embedded in the stories that are told about Baler itself, these self-preserving myths that seem designed to defy reality. What's so interesting about this movie is how much it understands what it is to make a wrong choice, to know that what you're doing is going to hurt someone else. It expands these personal choices into a story of a place, of a whole town that just seems to want to gloss over all the pain that's just underneath the sun-kissed surface of their idyllic beach lives.
The heart of the story belongs to the outsider, Fiona, who is at first seduced by this way of life, but then later horrified by what she finds. She doesn't have the scar tissue that these other characters have, and she isn't inured enough to the kind of pain that they all seem to be dealing with. There is an element of horror in all of this, Fiona standing in as the final girl among a cast of characters all revealed to be monstrous in some way. Annicka Dolonius does a fine job of conveying this horror, the mess of hurt emerging as a complex mix of emotions, all of it palpable and affecting.
Sid Lucero, as always, is fantastic, his inner darkness always visible just underneath the chill surfer exterior. Ana Abad Santos is great playing his mother, as well, fully embodying a woman clinging so desperately to the stories she tells about herself. But the revelation here is Gwen Zamora, who brings such grace to the damage of her character. The story they tell is further enhanced by a ridiculously accomplished technical package. This film could be studied in film school, every aspect of its production displaying a simple mastery that should be dissected and discussed for years to come.
Apocalypse Child was easily one of the best films of last year. It arrives into cinemas a year later, and its qualities are not at all diminished. A year after its premiere, it still stands as something truly remarkable. It is a mature, thematically complex, yet thoroughly entertaining work. It is that rare piece of work that can be appreciated on all levels. It can be taken as just a sad little love story, or expanded into greater themes of culture and memory. It really deserves a much larger audience than it has gotten so far in the scattered limited screenings it had throughout the year. This film just deserves to be seen.