Sara and her husband Lando had been loyal operatives for various illegal activities of local crime boss Kidlat, including, but not only, drugs. When the new president of the country began to clamp down on drug pushers and addicts, they decided to cut clean from the syndicate they served. One day, their son Alan suddenly went missing. Sara and Lando scour the streets, slums and underbelly of Manila in search for him.
Last year, Gina Alajar and Phillip Salvador played husband and wife in "Pastor" directed by Adolfo Alix, Jr., also their director in this new film "Madilim ang Gabi." If their characters lived in opulence as Christian ministers in that previous film, their characters now lived in a Tondo slums as petty criminals. In the previous film, the devil took the form of a boy who swept their daughter off her feet. In this new film, it was a voice on the radio calling for the killing of everyone involved in illegal drugs.
Gina Alajar owned this movie. She underplayed Sara to seem like a meek victim of her circumstances. However, throughout the film, we also got a sense of how influential she really was in the crime network of her area. We sympathized with her effort to clean up her life yet punished by having her only son Alan (Felix Roco) disappear. At the same time, we also feared her.
Phillip Salvador played her loyal and protective husband Lando, but even he seemed to be second-in-command in their household. Salvador came across as sincere in this performance more than his other recent films, maybe because he was able to minimize his distracting acting tics here.
In the process of their quest, Sara and Lando meet a number of people from their past and present. These minor characters were portrayed by big-name movie stars in cameo roles. Part of the "fun" (actually more a distraction) in watching this movie was spotting and identifying these familiar faces playing their family, neighbors, policemen, drug pushers, henchmen, mourning relatives of victims, and reporters.
Some of those supporting actors in "Pastor" were again here in "Madilim" like Jason Abalos, Rosanna Roces and Angelina Kanapi. In addition, we also see Elizabeth Oropesa, Alessandra de Rossi, Anita Linda, Perla Bautista, Bembol Roco, Angel Aquino, Julio Diaz, Jesse Mendoza, Zanjoe Marudo, Allan Paule, Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani, Iza Calzado, Kenken Nuyad, Erlinda Villalobos, Flora Gasser, Cherie Pie Picache and Cris Villonco. Cherie Gil and Laurice Guillen played the most unexpected roles.
With these multiple guest stars, you can already imagine how episodic this movie was. It is just one scene of Sara and/or Lando meeting one person after the other as they did their inquiries about their missing son. This treatment reminded me of "Manila by Night" (Ishmael Bernal, 1980). However here, the sequencing felt very random and did not seem related to each other, just a series of red herrings. Further complicating matters was this other mysterious "Boss" from whom Sara took orders, who was never revealed.
Writer-director Adolfo Alix, Jr. attempted to do another "Ma'Rosa" (Brillante Mendoza, 2016) here but rather fell short. The sense of tension and dread was there, but never really reached a compelling peak. Alajar had a scene buying and eating kwek-kwek on the sidewalk, which recalled the famous fishball eating scene of Jaclyn Jose in "Ma'Rosa."
Alix made a a powerful unspoken message in that scene where Sara removed her favorite wrist accessory -- a baller bracelet for the winning president. However, we see that baller on her wrist again in later scenes (on purpose or not?), wasting her big turnaround moment.
The voice and words of the president against drugs played a very important role in this film. While some people give up the drug lifestyle, the drug crimes persist on a big scale, stronger and as stable as ever. The president can issue deadly threats ("I will kill you!") every day, but we see that these drug personalities have really become brazen and fearless as they go on with their crime.
We hear his voice going on and on even well after the closing credits, as if they were mere empty words falling on deaf ears. Here we see just how deeply rooted the problem is and why.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."