Netflix is calling the film “The Girl and the Gun.” But the Filipino title is “Babae at Baril,” which my translator says is “Women and Guns.”
Either way, you get the idea. Writer-director Rae Red (“Neomanila” was hers) sets us up for a female revenge fantasy. Not delivering what she promised is a pretty serious breach of cinematic trust.
A downtrodden, working-poor department store clerk (Janine Gutierrez), bullied by her boss, harassed by the Boys on the Corner on her way home every night, threatened by her slumlord, rudely dismissed by the convenience kiosk owner closest to her flat, overhears a shooting down the street. She finds the offending revolver.
So when she’s raped by a creep at work, she’s not just ready to snap. She’s got the means of revenge.
But Red then spends the entire second half of the film showing us how the gun got to our unnamed heroine. “Babae at Baril” comes to an utter halt as we see the pistol assembled in a back-alley armory, a wheelman at a shootout take possession of the pistol, and take a bullet in that shootout, and so on.
Everything that works in this brief, gritty and lurid little parable of a thriller is in those opening acts.
We see the seemingly-routine abuse women are subjected to — on the street, on the job. Every command to “SMILE,” every creepy colleague whose unwanted attention includes hosiery (“Try them on! Here!”), every time the roommate’s boyfriend demands sex, is an affront and an outrage.
A pistol can seem like a quick fix to that, and often is in glib American films where consequences are ignored or at least conveniently delayed. Red depicts a nearly lawless culture where cops are nowhere to be found, unless there’s corruption afoot. But to her credit, she doesn’t look for an easy out.
The percussive score weaves ambulance sirens and natural sound into a rhythmic scene-setter as our provincial heroine navigates the luridly-lit mean streets back to her home.
“Babae at Baril” has all that going for it, only to stop in its tracks. The transition to “How she got that gun” is clumsy, and at least one hand-off, owner-to-owner, has a “Wait a minute, how’d HE get it?” that makes you wonder if the director missed a step.
It’s got a feminist subtext, and as parables go, at least its short. But it was nervous, edgy and punchy for 40 minutes, something we can’t forget as the picture limps through its second half.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, violence, sex and sexual assault, profanity, smoking
Cast: Janine Gutierrez, Felix Roco, JC Santos
Credits: Scripted and directed by Rae Red. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:19