‘Honor Thy Father’: TIFF Review

courtesy of Napa Valley Film Festival
A muscularly indignant thriller.

A flinty portrait of inequality and vigilante justice in the modern Philippines by filmmaker Erik Matti.

The titular directive powering Honor Thy Father seems more mordantly sarcastic with every passing minute in Filipino director Erik Matti’s portrait of a man beset by his devout wife’s Daddy issues – not just with her own crooked father but with the God to whom she and her affluent friends are hysterically devoted. Returning to the same genre territory as his 2013 On The Job, which bowed in Director’s Fortnight at Cannes, after recent forays into horror – including a segment in anthology film The ABCs of Death 2, alongside filmmakers like Rodney Ascher and Vincenzo Natali – Matti again shows himself a dab hand at excavating the fault lines extending across his country’s social and economic demarcations.

That he does so in the guise of a thriller bodes well for his latest’s commercial prospects beyond the festival circuit, though as ever the director’s implicit politics are bleakly unsentimental. Honor Thy Father trains its sights on the entitlement of the upper classes as well the outrageous venality of the Church. How it will be received in its own country, in which more than three-quarters of the population is Catholic, is anybody’s guess.

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Edgar (John Lloyd Cruz) lives alongside wife Kaye (Meryll Soriano) and daughter Angel (Krystal Brimner) in a social sphere to which he's a stranger. His own family works the mines somewhere in the country but is looked down upon by Edgar’s piously snobbish wife. “I’m not stopping you from visiting them”, she says, “Just don’t bring Angel”.

But it’s Kaye who ends up jeopardizing her own daughter’s wellbeing, convincing the couple’s friends to invest in her father’s get-rich-quick scheme. When he turns up dead and the money disappears, the couple endure the violent wrath of their fellow parishioners, determined to get their money back. Despite having lost all their savings themselves, Edgar and Kaye are told to pay back every cent – or else.

The rapidly multiplying demands of the churchgoers breathe a whole climate of proprietorial condescension. At a birthday party Angel is left empty-handed when a bowl of fried chicken is hoovered up in seconds by a swarm of well fed little fingers. Earlier Edgar has scolded Angel for poking a boy at school in the eye, an admonition he later reverses when the value of offensive defense becomes all too plain. Later, Angel is kidnapped, her head raggedly shaven by a couple of bling-encrusted yuppies looking to get Edgar to pay up. “Will you poke them in the eye, Papa?” the girl asks.

The suburban world of Edgar and his family, limited largely to home and to church, is gauzed by d.p. Ber Cruz in sickly, sun-bleached yellow, making the church presided over by Bishop Tony (Tirso Cruz III) seem all the more oppressively cultish. “My God”, exclaims Kaye at one point. “Your God”, replies Edgar. The starched conformity seems even more airless after Edgar visits his brothers in the mountains to enlist them in a heist that might get the debtors off his back by stealing the Church’s collection money from inside its palatial HQ.

Written by Michiko Yamamoto, whose credits include Lav Diaz’s Norte, The End of History, Honor Thy Father tackles similar subject matter – crime, class, family – but is at its most acidic as a portrait of the Filipino Church. Edgar’s discomfort with evangelist histrionics turns to outright disdain when Bishop Tony refuses to return the hefty donation made by Edgar’s late father-in-law, even though it would help drag the family out of the morass. The pastor’s oft-repeated refrain that “Yeshua will provide” begins to ring very hollow indeed. “A parent can forgive anything”, Edgar’s mother tells him; whether a child can is another story.  

Production Companies: Reality Entertainment Inc.

Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Meryll Soriano, Dan Fernandez, Tirso Cruz III, Perla Bautista, Yayo Aguila, Khalil Ramos, William Martinez, Lander Vera Perez, Boom Labrusca, Krystal Brimner

Director: Erik Matti

Writer: Michiko Yamamoto

Story by: Erik Matti, Michiko Yamamoto

Producer: Erik Matti

Supervising Producer: Tess V. Fuentes

Associate Producer: Stacey Bascon

Executive Producers: Ronald “Dondon” Monteverde, John Lloyd Cruz

Director of Photography: Ber Cruz

Production Designer: Ericsson Navarro

Editor: Jay Halili

Sound Supervision: Mikko Quizon

Composer: Erwin Romulo

Sales: Reality Entertainment Inc.

14A, 115 minutes

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