In today’s over-abundance of cheap-to-produce reality shows, ordinary folk think nothing of competing for the right to be humiliated. They line up for hours then shamelessly (not a few shamefully) sing, dance, juggle, cohabitate, eat worms, or read maps on the way to lifting their dull lives to more than 15 minutes of fame and/or a big cheque. Countless millions tune in every week, living vicariously through those who aren’t afraid to risk looking ridiculous. With audience participation on the rise (“Vote for me!), more and more the fate of contestants is left to cellphones of the masses—more voting for their favourite “idol” than their politicial hopeful.
With Jay, director/writer Francis X. Pasion takes a cynical, at times sinister view of what lengths the brain trust of the program Dearly Departed Ones would go to fill an episode or two with the gory/personal details surrounding the brutal murder of a semi-closeted gay man who was about to make it big with a lucrative job offer (teaching school in Baltimore).
The opening sequence is the first installment. As the blaring voice-over explains, Luz Mercado (an impassioned performance by Flor Salanga) wakes on Ash Wednesday with a metaphorical bird slipping in and out of her grasp. After church she’s confronted with the gruesome news (a special re-run being called in like an air strike by the Channel 8 director/producer who is on scene to sign up an exclusive) that her son, Jay, has been stabbed to death in an apartment where nervous co-tenants recall many male visitors ….
From there, Jay Santiago (Baron Geisler skillfully manages the slimy/manipulative role) soon becomes the Mercado family’s surrogate for their lost son. The grieving mother soon latches on to the conniving head of the TV crew (who thinks nothing of wearing the dead man’s shirt and breaking into his stash of porn) in a manner that is strikingly similar to kidnap victims having affection for their captors.
The trip to the morgue, the community wake and reactions from all those who knew (or thought they knew) the murdered man are filmed either as they actually occurred or (incredibly, when bad tape necessitated a redo of the morgue scene with a surrogate—still living—lying on the slab) reshot and edited into the “real” final cut before broadcast. Couldn’t happen here!
To add further intrigue, Edward (Coco Martin filling his frames with intensity and dark bewilderment as his affections flit from Jay to Jay) is tracked down and brought to the family home to bid adieu to his former lover. A bit too magically, the openly hostile Nanay Luz (“All he did was love him.”) buries her anger with her son, forgiving whatever transgressions Edward may have committed against the hope of the family.
For his début feature, Pasion exhibits savvy understanding of the human experience, a wicked sense of humour and an ability to draw powerful performances from his cast. Bring on the next! JWR