Take the worst day you’ve ever had at your job and multiply it by ten. That still probably won’t compare with the day that Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) is having in Graceland.
Villar must take care of his young daughter, Elvie (Ella Guevara), visit his ailing wife in the hospital and still find the time to clean up the dirty work of his boss. Villar has been working for years as a chauffeur for Manuel Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias), a dynamic Filipino politician with an evil secret. Even though Chango has his own daughter (Sophia, who is close friends with Elvie), he has a habit of hiring pre-teen girls to fulfill his fantasies at night.
Even though he certainly knows that it is wrong, Villar becomes complicit in the desires of his boss and always makes sure that his tracks are covered afterwards. One night, he drops off some money with a heavily drugged young girl back at her home after an evening with Manuel, and it becomes clear that the girl’s grandmother is going to be the one to break the silence about these heinous acts.
The next day, Elvie and Sophia ditch school to go shopping and barely make it back to the gates in time to be picked up by Marlon at the end of the day. His anger at their behavior quickly turns to terror when all three become the victims of a carjacking and kidnapping attempt. The scenario quickly spins out of control, and Villar is soon forced to lie and act fast to ensure that his daughter survives the experience.
This kicks off a game of cat and mouse between chauffeur, the kidnappers, the police and his boss as the Villar must placate one group while convincing everyone else that he had nothing to do with what has happened. (The lead detective on the case is suspicious of the entire situation—and that’s long before the pedophiliac tendencies of their trusted politician are known.)
Some viewers may take issue with a few, easily avoidable shots of frontal nudity from girls who appear to be every bit as young as they are in the storyline. Whether or not these young actresses were of age (and that seems doubtful), the voyeurism of letting the camera linger on the naked body of a 14-year-old girl feels, at best, tasteless. The same emotional impact could have easily been established by using less exploitative camera shots. Whether or not you agree with that decision, the entire sequence of Manuel being forced to deal with the consequences of his addictions is undeniably powerful.
Director and screenwriter Ron Morales earned a degree in photography before going on to NYU to study film and his attention to detail is evident in every frame. Shot under the radar with small digital cameras on the streets of Manila, there is an immediacy to the imagery that, at times, gives the film a documentary feel. Graceland is a volatile, edge-of-your-seat thriller that will linger in one’s memory long after the final scene has ended.
Director: Ron Morales
Writer: Ron Morales
Starring: Arnold Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias, Dido De La Paz, Leon Miguel, Ella Guevara, Marfie Necesito, Patricia Ona Gayond
Release Date: Apr. 26, 2013