MANILA, Philippines – Randolph Longjas’ Buy Now, Die Later seems to take its cue from Frank Mancuso Jr and Larry B Williams’ Friday the 13th (1987-2000), a television series where cursed items that were sold at a unique antique shop were being sought by a duo to be kept away from the public. The show, whose best episodes dealt with various characters whose morality became compromised because of their addiction to the diabolic benefits of the cursed items they have come into possession, examines the overt weakness of humanity in a way that is universally relatable by virtue of everybody’s attachment to things.
The premise is aptly localized by Longjas, who conceives a store, managed by devilishly charming Santi (TJ Trinidad), that only appears to shoppers who are in dire need of some supernatural assistance to aid them in their quest for success. Longjas links the items together via characters that are connected in various indistinct ways, and also by their obvious relation to each of the 5 senses. Longjas’ clever design results in a film that admirably skirts the convenience of having disparate episodes by tying all its tales together into a single storyline that climaxes quite satisfyingly.
A collection of setups
The film starts with the plight of photojournalist Odie (Vhong Navarro) who uses the camera he bought from Santi to give him the right leads to put his career back on track. At the end of his episode, he crosses paths with Chloe (Alex Gonzaga), a famous singer who gets both her voice and celebrity advice from a cellular phone she purchased from Santi.
Ato (Rayver Cruz), Odie’s best friend and owner of a successful restaurant, owes his culinary acumen to a recipe book he got from Santi.
Pippa (John Lapuz), head of Chloe’s fan club, is desperate for love from men he knows he’ll never have. Pushed to desperation because his childhood crush has declared his love, not for him, but for his twin sister (Cai Cortez), he goes to Santi to acquire a perfume that will drive men crazy for him.
Finally, Maita (Lotlot de Leon), the mother of Chloe, desires to experience the pleasures of youth that was deprived of her when she became pregnant with Chloe. She is also convinced by Santi to use his special cream that will make her look young again.
Buy Now, Die Later mostly operates as a collection of setups. One by one, Longjas introduces his 5 characters, placing each one’s initial interaction with Santi against pertinent points in the malleable timeline he has assembled for the film. The creative proposition is tricky and Longjas seems to have problems with continuity, but the canny attempt at cohesion is very admirable.
Wonders in store
More than anything, Buy Now, Die Later is a visual treat. Santi’s shop alone is a beautifully designed space where various trifles are displayed for ominous effect. Coupled with Trinidad’s convincing turn as the deviously crafty salesman, the scenes that happen inside Santi’s shop are all amusingly tense, despite being repetitive.
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Longjas’ best setpiece here, however, is Ato’s captivating episode, where the hardworking chef ends up in the middle of a party of a family of devilish freaks. The episode seems to be the strangest, perhaps because it is the one that feels most removed from the world that Longjas has invested in and evidences a noteworthy audacity for Longjas who is all too ready to break the growing tedium of his film’s conceit with a chapter that could play separately from the rest.
Lapus however steals the show. The actor, who gamely played the same character of the gay man with all the pent-up angst of someone whose desires are impossible to realize, has exquisite comic timing. He takes the sorry disposition of his character and everybody his character represents lightly but never at the expense of pointless ridicule.
Buy Now, Die Later isn’t as novel as it feels. Thankfully, the film has more to offer than meaningless originality.
Longjas, who only had Ang Turkey Man ay Pabo Din (2013) before this, reveals himself as a filmmaker who is capable of creating bizarre entertainment out of bits and pieces of things we have seen before. Ang Turkey Man ay Pabo Din has all the conventional trappings of a hilarious television sitcom, but it succeeds because it embraces its ridiculousness and unoriginality with a clear focus on the facets that make it markedly different, which is its adroit mix of unabashed heart and humor set in a world that is entirely its own.
He works the same way here. Buy Now, Die Later favors the awkward mix of horror and comedy that films like Cinco (2010) and the rest of the Shake, Rattle and Roll series offer. However, Longjas acknowledges the need to set himself apart, and here, he tries and mostly succeeds. His film, without straying too far from being the piece of entertainment that it desires to be, is a spectacle of amicable delights. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ Tirad Pass. Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios