Written by: Martin Edralin
Starring: Vangie Alcasid, Rogelio Balagtas, Esteban Comilang, Sheila Lotuaco
Staying in cruise control becomes a normal part of life where each day mirrors each other and you can honestly forget what day of the week it is. I find myself living through this mundanity at times, having a full-time job and managing everything. A level of repetitiveness is bound to come forward until something shakes the very core. In the quietly poetic and slow-moving Islands, this sudden change puts one man in a place where modification becomes necessary, but his adjustment towards it becomes the true hurdle.
Living with both of his parents, Joshua (Vangie Alcasid) goes about his day going to work and returning home for the typical fare life has brought in middle-age. With the sudden passing of his mother, he must now tend to his father while realizing he needs more help than he’s willing to admit.
The quiet and smaller moments stitching together Islands hold all of its best segments because it allows Joshua to be such a relatable character. Someone sitting outside of the bubble to non-family members but wanting so much more. The moments where he seeks the connection but cannot physically put himself in the right mindset can easily connect with individuals who have found themselves in a similar position. Whether it be the colleagues asking you to join them for lunch and the hesitant refusal to do it from the fear of exposing yourself emotionally to others or going up to dance amongst others. All of this sits right under the surface for Joshua and it jumps out through the performance by Vangie Alcasid. Extremely subtle but I found myself feeling every look and despondency on a deep level because I’ve been in similar circumstances.
With the loss of his mother, Joshua gets put in a place where he needs to step up in a manner he did not think he would have to for many more years. His mother not only handled all the cooking for the household but also caring for his father. As the audience, we do not see any of this struggle until after she passes, thus displaying everything happening behind the scenes Joshua did not appreciate and must now take on. From showering his own father to taking him to appointments, it gets to the point where Joshua must quit his very job in order to care for his father. Not having any cooking ability, this experience pushes Joshua in ways he never thought he would need to step up, but the arrival of his cousin flips the script once again.
From their initial icy moments, it becomes evident they have not seen each other in years, and while hesitant at first, he invites her to stay with them and help care for Joshua’s father. The moments they share together definitively make an impact in the story as Joshua begins to slip into yet another cycle of the mundanity of caring for his father and not excelling because he lacks the basic caregiving skills necessary. Even in his best attempts to care for his father, Joshua’s cooking gets met with the father spitting out the food in disgust. Does it lack basic manners? Yes, but man it must have tasted fairly terrible. It makes the cousin’s arrival all the more important in Joshua’s development. His confidence boosts up to a level he has not displayed previously in the film as he builds a much-needed connection with her and what she brings to his life. It gets to a point where he begins to build some inappropriate feelings towards her, seeing as they’re related but it comes from a level of infantile yearning he has to bond with some other person.
Interspersed throughout the feature is Joshua praying to God for a life he hopes to have not backed up by his actions. He wants a wife and family but barely puts out the effort to achieve it as in many aspects of his life. It sets up the dichotomy of what he asks for and exactly what he attempts to do when he gets off of his knees. The religious symbolism around him weighs down on him throughout the feature, even to the point where he needs to cover up the statues in his room for him to effectively masturbate.
At times too slow for its own good, but also incredibly moving in the subtlest ways, Islands hits right at the core of this character by not showing very much. Following Joshua and his routines shows a man yearning for more but failing to achieve it. We’ve all been there, which allows for a level of connection the audience can build with him that he apparently cannot form with others. A lovely feature overall and one I hope gets the attention it deserves.