Shirt by Carolina Herrera
Smuggling Subtext in Different Genres
Yet up until the day we were set to meet, I had admitted to him: “I have to be honest, I just watched three of your movies back-to-back last night, for almost six hours straight.” He sat across me inside a barren photo studio, his demeanor serious and inhibited, his eyebrows furrowing with curiosity. “Which ones?” he asked.
My first impression of Red was how quiet he can be. So soft-spoken, generally expressionless, and unhurried with his movement. It’s hard to imagine this 20-something commanding a film crew to organize themselves and steering massive productions to yield notable filmography.
But the wunderkind, born a '90s baby, is a force to be reckoned with. Red’s second feature film Birdshot, a police chase with a young farm girl who kills an endangered Philippine eagle, was selected as the Filipino entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards. After that, Red worked on Eerie, a full-blown horror film starring industry mavens Bea Alonzo and Charo Santos-Concio.
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He went back to the local festival circuit with his noir thriller Neomanila, then shot a zombie blockbuster Block Z with Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto. His first movie for Netflix, Dead Kids, is a black comedy inspired by a newspaper headline: A group of privileged college kids in Manila stage a ransom of one of their classmates. Dead Kids is hilarious, and Red admits it was his first attempt at comedy.
“So you can see they’re all different,” he says as we run through his filmography, jumping from one genre to another (binge-watching them all together is quite the experience). But the interesting thing is how he manages to strike all the right chords. The horror is scary. The comedy is funny. The subtexts he suggests about society are painfully accurate, and the films are always mostly well done. He skips genres so effortlessly. In fact, his dream directorial role in the future is Star Wars.
“The way I see it, I still feel like I’m a student of cinema, I still feel like I’m learning. So while it’s still early in my career, I like exploring and trying new things,” says Red of not having yet settled on a signature style a la Wes Anderson. “Maybe eventually I can settle on a certain niche, but right now I’m enjoying the challenge. I like showing my versatility as well.”
If there’s anything that ties his films together, it’s that the protagonists are always morally ambiguous—good people getting into trouble with the law. “And maybe the trademark there is that, even though I change genres, I’m always trying to smuggle subtext, but using genre as the vehicle,” says Red.