Kamandag ng Droga mainly revolves around a group of young friends. Valerie (Sarah Lahbati) is a singer traumatized by the death of some kids who overdosed at a gig. Edgar (Mark Neumann) suffers under the thumb of his overly strict father (Christopher de Leon), who keeps accusing him of being a drug addict. His friend Ginger (Meg Imperial) is forced to stop her schooling, and ends up going to her drug manufacturing uncle (Ronnie Lazaro) for help. Ginger ends up giving drugs to the other two, which leads them both down a dangerous path.
The movie gets into other things as well: an altar boy who becomes a courier for a Chinese drug lord, some young women who escape rehab only to end up in a brothel, and then there’s Alfred (CJ Caparas), the only one among the young friends who stays on the straight and narrow. Later in, there are even more little subplots, the film just throwing in random scenes haphazardly, sketching out an even wider world of drug-driven awfulness. The film openly fashions itself as propaganda for this government’s bloody war on drugs, at times repeating the administration messaging word for word, in the process bending reality in really awful ways.
Let us be clear: drug addiction is a bad thing, and there is nothing inherently wrong is depicting its ills. But this movie is not at all interested in the realities of drug addiction. It doesn’t even bother to accurately depict the effects of specific drugs, treating them all as pretty much the same. This makes its rhetoric seem completely empty, an imaginary stance built not on genuine concern for the victims of drug abuse, but little more than the desire to appear supportive of this administration. It all feels insultingly and disgustingly false, the movie putting together a story that shows absolutely no understanding of the problems it ostensibly addresses, its elements all directed toward the sick messaging that there is no hope for people who become addicted to drugs.
But let’s not kid ourselves: it isn’t the politics that makes the movie bad. That’s just the arsenic icing on this already poisonous cake. The movie is a tour de force of bad filmmaking, it’s every sequence a grand demonstration of how not to do things. For all its posturing that it addresses real issues, it cannot stage a single scene where any of the characters talk like real people. Along the way, it also manages to be misogynist and racist, making inexplicable choices that display a personal awfulness that shouldn’t be tolerated.
It’s all pretty terrible. If we get into specifics of the awfulness this review might never end. But we can at least mention the pidgin Tagalog the film foists on its Chinese characters, which gets really weird when the film introduces a daughter who has a heavier accent than her parents. Or the couple of points where people just suddenly start addressing the camera. Or the digs at journalists and human rights advocates. The acting is all pretty terrible, too, and everyone involved should be embarrassed and ashamed. Caparas somehow manages to get bad performances out of everyone, which is pretty amazing considering the caliber of talent the movie actually possesses.
Kamandag ng Droga is just vile. It is pure excrement. It isn’t indicative of any real personal conviction regarding the plight of drug users. It is like every Caparas movie, a crass and cynical bit of exploitation, an assemblage of lurid melodramas that display no real sympathy for the human beings involved in the story. The saving grace of this film is that it is not at all convincing. It is so inept that it cannot effectively peddle its poisonous message. But we can’t really take comfort in that fact: the movie exists, and the world is worse for it.
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.