Leonor Will Never Die (2022) SFFF Review
At one point during the VHS boom, it seemed as if a horror or action film didn’t come from Italy it came from the Philippines. Mad Max clones like Stryker, horror films such as Beast of the Yellow Night, and more Vietnam War films than you could count flooded video stores and I watched pretty much all of them. Now we might get the occasional film such as BuyBust or Blood Hunters: Rise Of The Hybrids but Manilla’s reign as a capital of exploitation filmmaking sadly is long over.
Writer/director Martika Ramirez Escobar (Pusong Bato, Living Things) recalls those days in her first feature film, Leonor Will Never Die. Not by making a retro film in their style, but in the story of Leonor (Sheila Francisco, The Bicycle, The Gift) who was a noted director back in the day, until her son was accidentally killed during filming.
Now she’s fallen on hard times, her action-hero husband Valentin (Alan Bautista, The Lethal Hunt, Objective! Hill 171) has left her, the money has run out and her electricity is about to get turned off. Her surviving son Rudie (Bong Cabrera, Born Beautiful, Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles 2) lives with her but all he does about the bills is complain that she isn’t paying them.
But when Leonor sees an ad for a scriptwriting contest she sees the answer to her problems and pulls out her unfinished draft of “The Return of Kwago”. But when an argument among her neighbours results in her being hit on the head with a TV set she ends up in a coma and becomes the star of her own screenplay.
However, Leonor Will Never Die is more than just a meta action film. It’s also a reflection on familial relationships with characters in the film within a film being a reflection of some of those in Leonor’s life, including an idealized version of her dead son Ronwaldo (Rocky Salumbides, Imortal, Blindfold) as the hero.in contrast to his ghost played by Anthony Falcon (Haunted Mansion, Midnight in a Perfect World). This reality’s version of Rudie makes an early exit via an assassin’s bullet.
There’s also a commentary on the country’s political scene running through the film, the character of The Mayor (Dido de la Paz, Heated Vengeance, Geisha of Death) is an obvious take on Rodrigo Duterte who went from the mayor of Davao City to President. The tough talk and extrajudicial killings under the guise of a war on drugs are dead giveaways. It’s something that audiences in the Philippines would get but others can certainly enjoy the film even if they don’t pick up the reference.
Escobar does a nice job of working these themes into Leonor Will Never Die without losing sight of the action film elements that hold it all together. Granted the addition of a Bollywood-style musical number at the end was a bit of overkill that I could have done without. To be honest I got a festival’s worth of them from RRR and I don’t remember them being a part of the 80s films. But aside from that, there’s little to complain about, the various plot elements are nicely threaded and balanced so the film never becomes too heavy or serious and stays enjoyable.
Overall, Leonor Will Never Die is an enjoyable bit of fantasy with several more serious elements laying just under the story’s surface. There’s something for everyone from those who remember the films that inspired it to those looking for an offbeat domestic drama and fans of meta plotting. It’s a very promising debut for Martika Ramirez Escobar and worth checking out if it’s playing near you.
I saw Leonor Will Never Die as part of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival. Music Box Films has it on a rolling release in the US with dates scheduled through early March of 2023, You can check their website for a list of dates and theaters. FilmTagger can suggest some similar films to hold you over until it plays near you.