MANILA DEATH SQUAD is a beautifully-shot frenetic short film that is currently a Vimeo Staff Pick. You can watch it online today HERE. MANILA DEATH SQUAD is part action/part political commentary of the Duterte regime – er I mean presidency. The film, although only clocking in a little bit over twelve and a half minutes, packs a pretty direct punch at the establishment it’s criticizing and has been ripped apart by the Filipino “alt-right”. I had the opportunity to chat with director, Dean Colin Marcial. He seems like a pretty cool guy and I definitely agree with him that Alex Cox is a stone-cold G. Also, Dean, I hate to tell you but there are some schlubs out there who don’t like Hereditary but God forgive them for they know not what they do.
I look forward to his future projects and you should too, because if this short is any indication, the dude is going places. Read on for the interview!
Nightmarish Conjurings: Do you see any possibility for the sort of political climate that’s portrayed in MANILA DEATH SQUAD to be mirrored in the American government? Or do you feel like we’re already there?
Dean Colin Marcial: Call me a snowflake but rhetoric has power. Part of making MANILA DEATH SQUAD was reflecting on the United States’ attraction to strongmanism: Rufio’s attitude isn’t far off from “We’re America, bitch!” – and even that phrase perpetuates a narrative. Story trumps facts, and a casual tweet or a comment can trickle down into violence – socioeconomically and physically.
Sometimes the Philippines can seem like the bad dream of America – mostly in the colonized country adopting the States’ winner-take-all, kill-the-poor attitude, literally these days. I don’t think the sentiment is very far off from US’s current position towards undocumented migrants and refugees – they’re using words to dehumanize human beings to justify the cruelty. All it really takes are subtle shifts in PR to enable exterminism.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Is there any intention to expand this into a feature film? I think it is great as a stand-alone piece but I was just curious.
DCM: Me and my co-writer Kent Szlauderbach wrote this as a one-off, cannibalized from an outline of a TV show we were working on. I really have no idea what happens after they leave at the end of the movie.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What project(s) are you working on now?
DCM: I’m working on a TV series adaptation of me and Brett Potter’s short film The Midnight Service for Topic Studios/First Look Media – a sort of spooky true-crime X-files. I’m also developing a feature film thanks to Tribeca’s All Access Program called The Green Guerrillas, which is a spaghetti western set in Southeast Asia, and currently editing a short film based on it featuring much of the same cast as DEATH SQUAD.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Who would you say are your favorite directors and if any, which one(s) influenced you the most in the making of this film?
DCM: I know this will not win me any points with film school snobs but I really really love Paul Thomas Anderson, Sofia Coppola, and Quentin Tarantino, and Stanley Kubrick. I grew up with their movies and I keep coming back to them – for a while I was really hesitant to admit that but while making DEATH SQUAD I wanted to embrace the films that are almost family to me.
This film definitely started out as a VHS generation exercise – a bunch of people talking snappy dialogue – but it evolved with shades of Edgar Writher, A Clockwork Orange, and Lino Brocka’s Oropronobis. I also borrowed literally from Alex Cox – Sid & Nancy, Walker, Repo Man, Straight to Hell – maybe he’s in there more than Tarantino. What a G.
Mike DeLeon’s Batch ’81 was particularly influential in how it framed the Marcos era as a frat-hazing movie, structuring the film with the initiation of the main characters Sid Lucero (Mark Gil), who his son Timmy Eigenmann (who plays Rufio) takes his stage name from. It’s a pretty amazing loop to close.
Nightmarish Conjurings: You’ve edited a lot of films, including this one. Do you feel like more directors should edit their own films? Would you ever direct a film without being able to edit it?
DCM: Some directors should definitely have their editors – for there are a ton of amazing editors out there – if only to have some perspective on their movies. I think directors should know how to cut, even from a practical standpoint you find you can save a lot of time on set by knowing what you’re using beforehand, and it’ll also free you up to experiment more. And from a social standpoint you can speak the same language with your editor, which is essential, actually in every department. Otherwise it’s like traveling abroad and not knowing how to say thank you.
I would love to work with an editor that’s not me in the future – though I’d like to take a crack at it at some point. I’ve spent so many years editing other features and really soulless commercials and I feel like that’d go to waste if I don’t apply it to my own work. That said though, I’m looking forward to the day where I can walk away for two weeks and come back and there’s a new film.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Since I write for a horror website, I have two final questions to ask you: what is your favorite horror movie and why? Also would you classify your film as a horror film/if not what would you classify it as?
DCM: My favorites lately have been Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and Raya Martin’s How to Disappear Completely. Maybe they’re the two scariest films I’ve seen in the last decade. I love horror movies but I don’t do well watching them in the cinema – I always have one eye or one ear closed as a defense mechanism. And was there anyone who didn’t like Hereditary? I’m haunted by Ari’s movies ever since I saw his short The Strange Thing About the Johnsons at Slamdance years ago.
When I wrote this in 2015 it was more like a sci-fi movie, and after 2016 it became more of a present crime/thriller. I never thought about it as a horror film but I can see how it can be. I think of it as a sweet spaghetti acid western where the cowboys ride motorbikes instead of horses in Southeast Asia.