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BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Set largely in a world of murky dusk that’s about to be overtaken by pitch black night, experimental Filipino filmmaker Raya Martin’s self-proclaimed “homage to American Independent Horror” conjures all of the dread, much of the pounding soundtrack and a few potent whiffs of the boogeyman histrionics found in 1978’s “Halloween” (which, in a flpno.com interview, he cited as a conscious influence).
FILM | HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY
At The Asian American
International Film Festival
Written & Directed by Raya Martin
Runtime: 79 minutes
Filipino, Tagalog with English subtitles
Fri., Aug. 1, at 10 p.m.
At City Cinemas Village East
Second Ave. & 12th St.
$11 for students/seniors/disabled
Opening his film with a claustrophobic scene that implies merciless bloodshed, Martin then notes that what we’re about to see took place a year ago. In doing so, he imposes a tone of tragic destiny upon the uneasy (and vaguely sexual) dynamics of a religious mother, a drunken father and an autistic daughter. We’re already aware that no good can possibly come from their widening emotional gulf — just as there’s no escaping the sad fate experienced by characters from ghost stories and cautionary tales meant to keep the daughter from stepping out of line or wandering too far into the surrounding forest.
Raya Martin’s horror story goes from simmer to boil
“How to Disappear Completely” is confident in its economy of emotional and narrative momentum, letting talk of changing weather or the chirps of insects cast a suffocating pall over scenes of familial discord. A less assured storyteller would pepper these moments with rolling eye reaction shots or put-upon sighs from the sullen teen in the room — but when screenwriter and director Martin shows only the girl’s nearly motionless back during a long dinner table scene during which mom and dad are in full, animated view, it’s all we need to know about the short path from detatchment to defiance.
With only stingy hints of a supernatural force at work, threat number one becomes the adolescent urge to escape from a deeply flawed adult world. Having ventured into the night to attend a school play, the parents don’t know what they’re getting into when their normally silent daughter joins a chorus of children to recite, in foreboding unison, “A warning to all people who do atrocious things: We are going to hunt you down.”
That sets the stage for a third act that finally delivers on the narrative structure American audiences crave, along with the horror genre’s compulsory acts of violence — here, effectively delivered by way of a disturbing family reunion and, later, a hypnotic, synth-infused rampage during which rebellious teens assume the powers, privileges and curses of the adult world they seek to desecrate.