Truth and Movies

Verdict

Review by Leila Latif @Leila_Latif

Directed by

Raymund Ribay Gutierrez

Starring

Jordhen Suan Kristoffer King Max Eigenmann

Anticipation.

This is going to be brutal.

Enjoyment.

This is brutal done right.

In Retrospect.

The world is a nightmare but nightmares make great films.

This sensitive and harrowing portrait of domestic abuse looks at how the justice system fails women.

Verdict begins with violence. Joy (Max Eigenmann) is attacked by her husband Dante (Kristoffer King) while their weeping daughter watches on. She screams as her limbs are beaten and her face is pummelled to a swollen pulp. Her daughter cries, tugging at her mother’s bloodied hem before she too is soon drenched in blood, her matted hair forming a slash across her tiny face.

It is a scene of almost unbearable cruelty and yet the nightmare has only just begun. The film follows Joy’s tortuous fight for justice within a labyrinth of unfeeling bureaucracy. Filipino director Raymund Ribay Gutierrez succeeds in gracefully balancing these scenes of intense brutality with a profound sense of empathy.

Despite the towers of paperwork and men awaiting justice expiring of tuberculosis in the back of courtrooms, this is not a system of Kafkaesque absurdity. It is something more insidious, one purposely designed to disempower and destroy women. Dante is permitted to hurl abuse, scream and lunge at her while she delivers statements to the police and receives treatment for the wounds that cover her entire body. At every turn there is the question, either explicit or implicit ‘What did you do to deserve this?’

The film grapples with the justice system and at every turn finds its gatekeepers complicit, from the neighbours who ignore Joy’s screams, to the lawyers who manipulate her daughter, to the local police force who think of Dante as a decent enough guy. Joy, without the money and resources to make the system work for her, is treated with carelessness and contempt.

Verdict is filled with strong performances. Eigenmann brings sensitivity to her central role, but particular praise must go to King who makes Dante, with his irredeemable violent tendencies and complete lack of remorse, feel like a real person rather than a pantomime villain. The dynamic camera work enhances the performances, keeping unflinchingly close to the characters. From the filling out of forms to the stitching of wounds, a feeling of creeping, almost mundane evil pervades throughout.

It is reminiscent of other recent understated female tragedies, such as Never Rarely Sometimes Always and The Assistant. And there is, hanging over the narrative, the question of how a film like this can ever speak truth to the hopeless situation many victims of domestic abuse find themselves in. Thankfully, the choices Verdict makes are both satisfying and honest, and at no point does it betray Joy’s journey.

Published 26 Feb 2021

Tags: Max Eigenmann Raymund Ribay Gutierrez

Anticipation.

This is going to be brutal.

Enjoyment.

This is brutal done right.

In Retrospect.

The world is a nightmare but nightmares make great films.

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