Cinemalaya 2013 Review: Jason Paul Laxamana's BABAGWA (THE SPIDER'S LAIR) Is a Thrilling Look Into the Sordid Lives of Facebook Scammers

Jason Paul Laxamana's Babagwa, an exploration of the proliferation of deceit in a rapidly virtualizing world, centers on Greg (Alex Medina), who fronts himself online as Bam Bonifacio (Kiko Matos), an affluent and handsome model whose sexual orientation depends on the gender of the target victim. The ruse is the brainchild of Marney (Joey Paras), who gets a sizable portion of the money earned from the swindle. Like all of his previous victims, Daisy (Alma Concepcion), a wealthy and philanthropic middle-aged woman, easily falls for Greg's dashing alter-ego. However, caught in a web of domestic drama, a shallow and stunted romance with his girlfriend (Chanel Latorre), and a slew of unsatisfying paychecks from his illicit gigs, he suddenly finds himself falling for Daisy.

Babagwa is ingenious. Laxamana creates a believable world where fantasy and reality are immediately interchangeable. Set in Laxamana's native Pampanga, the film enunciates the nagging pains of living indolent lives. His characters are scoundrels, products of their own doing and a society that forces them to scrape the very bottom of barrels to experience a semblance of a decent life. Marney needs to uproot his parents from a house that is being threatened to be demolished by the local government. On the other hand, Greg, Marney's former talent who has allowed himself to fade alongside his dreams of fame and glory, has only his afternoon trysts with his girlfriend to remind him of what he has lost. To his annoyance, his girlfriend seems to be more interested in a vacation he cannot provide than stroking his fragile ego. Presumably, their victims certainly live similarly pathetic lives.

Laxamana conceives the world with Darwinian precepts, a bazaar where love is peddled to the loveless, and thieves and cheaters are abound. Facebook has made the marketplace smaller and has made it even more difficult to detect fact from fiction. It has allowed for the commodification of virtual lives, those products of wants and necessities multiplied exponentially by a specific moment's mood. In one's playful mind, depending on one's gullibility and specific need, a swindler sitting alone in a dark and unkempt room is a sensitive prince lying in an expensive condo unit and in need of part-time passion. Trust is a too expensive luxury if the need is desperate.

Laxamana clearly understands the foolishness of it all. Babagwa is after all still a comedy of errors, one whose humor is reliant on the very foolishness of humanity to fall for the obviously illogic all in the name of love, or lust. He doesn't take his observant musings too seriously, and instead concentrates on balancing the tension with moments of delightful levity. His actors share the same responsibility, peppering their convincing performances with playfulness. Babagwa is refreshingly balanced, its heavy themes never outweighing the need to still entertain.

It is therefore unfortunate that Laxamana chooses to give up the balancing act in favor of a neat resolution. The film's parting shot suggests Greg's comeuppance. The politics itself of such comeuppance seems questionable and misshapen. Moreover, it is a misstep that forces Babagwa to be a mere cautionary tale on the dangers of mixing virtual lives and real longing. For sure, the ending perfectly wraps Laxamana's brilliantly conceived concept, but it only does so for the purpose of completing a narrative, to satisfy the demands of tradition. In the end, Laxamana's sophomore feature feels more like an exquisitely filmed urban legend, an urban legend that has been whispered around by those unfortunate enough to be enthralled by the internet's promises of quick love only to be fooled in the end.

(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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