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Honor Thy Father: An unnoticed crowning glory

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Directed by: Erik Matti
Written by: Michiko Yamamoto
Starring: John Lloyd Cruz and Meryll Soriano

Rating: 4/5
A gutsy film that touches on age-old taboos, Honor Thy Father starts high but doesn’t quite hit the bull’s-eye

***

An ambitious piece that left controversy in its wake, Honor Thy Father puts the rest of this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) films to shame despite being disqualified from the Best Picture category at the MMFF Gabi ng Parangal. Director Erik Matti dares to put cinematic quality over the quantity of box office profit. Rejecting age-old cliché love teams typical of local mainstream successes, Honor Thy Father took its boldness a step further by delving into a taboo that most film producers won’t touch—religion.

Filipinos are known for their strong faith—whether it’s Catholic, Protestant, Born-again, or Iglesia ni Cristo, religion dominates this nation. But hidden under the layers of fervent faith festers zealotry and religious corruption of society that most of us don’t question, some too fearful of the sick truth that might be unearthed. Honor Thy Father addresses those issues quite bluntly by ripping off the Band-Aid and revealing the twisted immorality of blind faith with a tale of a family’s struggle against money-hungry zealots.

On the surface, Edgar’s (John Lloyd Cruz) family, Kaye (Meryll Soriano) and their only child, Angel (Krystal Brimner), residing in the affluent suburbs of Baguio might seem idyllic, but underneath lurks Edgar’s disillusionment with his wife’s fanatical church and her ventures to have more money than she already has. Falling victim to a Ponzi scheme, Kaye loses all the money of her Church of Yeshua church-mates in her lending business. The infuriated mob gives her an ultimatum: return their money or else her family’s life is at stake. At an impasse, Edgar must make morally questionable decisions in the name of survival.

Our main character Edgar is played by John Lloyd Cruz who takes a step away from his known roles in traditional rom-coms. Instead, in Honor Thy Father, he shows us his acting chops with a mature and severe portrayal of Edgar as a passive, detached husband in the shadow of his wife’s limelight. Yet he shows us the breadth of his skills when his characters slowly morphs into a relentless patriarch protecting his family at all costs. Edgar’s mesmerizing growth starkly contrasts with the degradation of his wife Kaye’s character from an assertive member of society to a pitiful victim of her own foolish greed.

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While on one side of the story stands the blackmailing zealots of the Church of Yeshua, on the other side stands Edgar who sees the church’s wrongdoings, but forgoes making them right. There are no heroes in this story: only the essence of man’s primal instinct to take and to survive. The film portrays what happens when you strip away a person’s humanity and leave them behind as vehicles of their instincts: the Church of Yeshua followers settle for corruption to hoard wealth and to resort to violence to get what they think is duly theirs, while Edgar sheds his peaceful persona to protect his wife and daughter, no matter how brutal the cost.

As complex and on-point as the first half of the film was, the second half loses its footing, leaving behind the taboo tones of the first half and becoming mainly a film of a father’s struggle for his family’s survival. Unfortunately, the shift of focus mid-film knocks down one star in this film review. Going from great to good, the potential seen in the first half faded out of the film and only creates more questions that the film declines to answer.

Speed bumps aside, a notable mention should be given to the stunning cinematography that sets the sobering tone of the film, and seamless music that steadily rises the drama when needed, inciting goosebumps throughout the film.

This isn’t a film that gives you closure or immediate satisfaction—it’s grim, sober, and will stick with you in the waking hours and weeks after watching. In its entirety, the film Honor Thy Father is a warning not to taint religion with human greed. Money-worshipping fanatics and naïve followers of blind faith: the plot is rife with hypocrites who teach us precisely what faith is not.

The guts and glory of the Honor Thy Father all stem from the production team’s audacity to create a predictably controversial film, and still create it anyway because as Matti said, “We deserve more. Demand for better movies.”