FILM REVIEW: Birdshot3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Diego, a rural caretaker, shows his 14-year-old daughter Maya how to shoot a gun to learn self-sufficiency. She ends up killing an endangered Philippine eagle, bringing unforeseen and frightening consequences into their quiet life.
Director: Mikhail Red
Cast: Mary Joy Apostol, Arnold Reyes, John Arcilla, Ku Aquino
Run time: 115min
Rating: R21 on Netflix
Review by Jean Wong
In light of Mikhail Red’s new film Eerie (2018) having its world premiere at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival, we took a look at one of his earlier films, one that has had its own share of critical acclaim. Birdshot (2016) had its debut at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival and went on to be the first Filipino film to stream worldwide on Netflix, cementing Red’s status as an outstanding Filipino filmmaker.
As a mystery-thriller, Birdshot (2016) does its job consistently well. For those who may not know, the film is inspired by real events. In 2012, a farmer shot down and cooked a Philippine eagle — the country’s critically endangered national bird — causing the story to hit the national headlines. It also alludes to the civil unrest and political intrigue that has plagued the country for decades.
Red juggles these political undertones with a coming-of-age story. When we are introduced to Maya (Mary Joy Apostol) in the beginning of the film, she is heavily reliant on her father and her dog for support. As the protagonist, it seems fitting that Maya wears a red shawl throughout the film, evoking the classic fairytale of Red Riding Hood. Just as Red Riding Hood, when Maya is left to fend for herself, that is when we see her truly change and grow. Moreover, the lack of female characters in the movie also hints at the patriarchal environment Maya grew up in, something that she struggles with throughout the film. The film follows her coming-of-age as she grasps what it is to be a woman who can stand her ground, and newcomer Apostol makes Maya a compelling protagonist to watch.
Maya isn’t the only one affected by the strange events that’s happening. Officer Domingo (Arnold Reyes) is a rookie in the police force who upholds idealistic views of being a civil worker. He is briefly assigned to a case of missing bus passengers, but is then quickly deflected to investigate the death of a Philippine eagle instead. Domingo quickly becomes entangled in the intrigue and chaos of the two cases, as well as the political trap-falls of civil service. The colour red plays a significant part in Domingo’s segment as well — in the motif of blood. The parallels between Domingo and Maya run throughout the film, joined together by splashes of red and the slow unravelling of their naivety and innocence.
Consisting mostly of earthy tones of the countryside, the stark contrast of red against such a backdrop signals major cornerstones for the audience. The film’s colour palette adds to the otherworldly atmosphere. Besides the colour design, the sound design of the film is used to brilliant effects as well. The call of the Philippine eagle alerts the viewer to important points in the movie. These cries often prompt Maya into action and lead her to areas pertinent to the film, all of which become significant plot points. Apart from the calls of the eagles, the limited use of background music emphasises sounds such as the characters’ breathing, which adds on to the solemnity of the mood. These heavy silences that fill certain scenes immerse the viewer and draw them to pay even more attention to the screen.
Overall, Birdshot is a delectable masterpiece that weaves Maya’s coming-of-age journey with real life political events to create an evocative work of fiction. It uses impressive colour and sound design to effectively tell a chilling story. It is no wonder Birdshot has received so much acclaim — this is definitely one film to look out for.