THIS YEAR’S Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) made history as it showcased 10 films on the silver screen, up from the usual eight. 

The lineup offers a variety of genres–family dramas, historical films, fantasy, horror, and comedy. 

Four of the 10 competing films were chosen in July 2023 out of 26 script submissions, while the other six were announced in October and were selected out of 30 completed film entries. 

Here is the Varsitarian’s review of the first four films in the MMFF roster. 

‘Family of Two’

Film and television director Nuel Naval has worked on several films centered on the family, such as the drama “Family Matters” (2022) and the Philippine adaptation of the South Korean movie “Miracle in Cell No. 7” (2019). His latest, “Family of Two,” also has the family as its subject. 

The film revolves around Maricar (Sharon Cuneta), who lost her husband when their son Mateo (Alden Richards) was just five years old. Maricar raises the child alone while juggling multiple jobs. 

For much of its 100-minute running time, the film shows how Maricar and Mateo lived their lives as a duo–the former as a caring mother and the latter as a responsible and loving son. 

Czarina (Miles Ocampo, who won Best Supporting Actress this year), a girl from a dysfunctional family, is Mateo’s love interest. Both receive an offer to work abroad, and Czarina sees the chance to be independent while Mateo faces the challenge of leaving his mother. 

Naval’s treatment of “Family of Two” is lighter compared with the director’s previous films, as it strikes a balance between drama and comedy. 

Some subplots are not fleshed out, like the mere mention of Maricar considering going back to school through the Alternative Learning System. There is also no intense conflict between the characters, which leads to minor decisions being exaggerated. 

Although editing is not seamless, the film’s screenplay, scoring, and acting leave tears in the eyes of its audience. “Family of Two” shows there can be beauty in a simple storyline and that the usual films about the Filipino family can evolve, too. 


Four years after facing casting issues and ultimately pulling out of the 2019 MMFF competition lineup, King Palisoc’s “Kampon” finally made its appearance on the silver screen in 2023. The horror flick draws from themes usually seen in Filipino dramas: infertility and the desire to start a family. 

Clark (Derek Ramsay) is a police officer who is struggling to have a child with his wife Eileen (Beauty Gonzalez) eight years into their marriage. Their lives are changed when a little girl named Jade (Erin Espiritu) knocks on the door of their humble abode, starting what would be a series of strange and supernatural occurrences. 

“Kampon” offers a brave and fresh approach to the Filipino horror genre as it builds on the notion of the perceived pressures of starting a family. The film banks on its visuals to show its eeriness–it effectively uses color and cinematography to make its audience feel increasingly uncomfortable. It transitions to darker, grayish tones as the story descends into terror. 

While the visual aspect of “Kampon” is commendable, multiple ideas are packed into a two-hour movie that ultimately fails to tie them all together in the end. Many details introduced early in the film are not brought up again, leaving the audience confused. 

“Kampon” accomplishes its goal of creating supernatural terror from infertility, but could have induced more fear had it fleshed out its story to match its haunting cinematography.


Jason Paul Laxamana, known for his romantic films like “100 Tula Para Kay Stella” and “Between Maybes,” forays into action in his fantasy film “Penduko.” It is based on the 1954 comic book superhero Pedro Penduko by National Artist Francisco Coching, the “King of Komiks.”

The latest take on Pedro Penduko possesses the basic elements of the character but with a modern twist: he is still the young man who fights Philippine mythological monsters with his arnis and wears a powerful amulet that protects himself from harm, but is now a secret agent of an underground sorcery group called “Hatinggabi.”

“Penduko” offers an attention-grabbing dilemma for the protagonist at the beginning of the story. He is divided between becoming a healer like his father who helped townspeople without pay, and a sorcerer who fights injustices. 

The protagonist squanders his progress, however, as he remains vengeful and seems to learn nothing from his journey. 

The film’s effects look far from believable, while its dialogues come off as cheesy and forced in an attempt to be humorous.

It offers a fresh and promising take on a beloved Filipino comic book story but fails to fulfill its potential.


Romcom director Mae Cruz-Alviar adds another work to her collection of drama-comedy films in “Rewind,” a film that features all the popular — and for the harshest critics, rehashed — tropes such as second chances, turning back time, and asking for forgiveness.

The heart of the story are main characters John and Mary (played by the celebrity couple Dingdong Dantes and Marian Rivera), whose marriage is beset by a domino of issues brought by John’s workaholic attitude.

John is, however, forced to face his problem of being an absent husband and father when Mary’s life is suddenly taken in a tragic car accident. 

“Rewind” also has a religious undertone. Jesus Christ, called “Lods,” the slang for “idol” (played humorously by comedian Pepe Herrera), makes an offer to a devastated John — either John takes the place of Mary or the reality persists. 

Out of guilt, grief, and remorse, John chooses the former, with Lods turning back time to the day before the accident to allow John to rectify his mistakes.

With the familiarity of the film’s tropes, “Rewind” has been accused of copying from Gil Junger’s 2004 romantic fantasy “If Only,” in which a man wakes up with one more shot at pursuing his violinist lover who had died in a car crash.

Still, there is no denying that the film stars’ acting has lifted the movie to box-office success. 

A cheesy love team or even a random pairing of A-listers won’t be able to replicate the chemistry of the Dantes couple. Their reel-to-real life love story puts them at ease in their roles.

Lods’s character is also prize-worthy, with Herrera portraying a reimagined, relatable Jesus Christ. A more serious characterization would have ruined the story.


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