Apocalypse Child is a wonderful film.

Ford (Sid Lucero), like his beachside town of Baler, Philippines, loves to surf. The surfing craze in Baler apparently started after the crew filming part of Apocalypse Now left a surf board behind. Although Ford embraces his local pastime to the point where he wins almost every surfing competition and makes his living as a surfing instructor, he’s not too keen on discussing the Hollywood classic’s history in Baler. You see, according to his mother and local folklore, Ford is the illegitimate son of Francis Ford Coppola (who, for obvious reasons, is never mentioned by name).

Enjoying his life with his outspoken American girlfriend Fiona (Annicka Dolonius) and his fun, but overstepping, mom Chona (Ana Abad Santos), Ford’s lazy existence is threatened when his childhood best friend Rich (RK Bagatsing)-now a popular congressman-comes home with new fiancée Serena (Gwen Zamora). Rich and Ford’s reunion is clearly strained, but that doesn’t stop the five characters from spending nearly all their time together. Chona, Rich, and Ford have a strange dynamic with some clear unspoken resentments and Serena and Fiona, unsuspecting as they may be, are about to get dragged into it.

I’ll start, as does Mario Cornejo (who also directs the film) and Monster Jimenez’s script, with the bad news. Apocalypse Child is a story about its characters, but doesn’t do nearly enough in the opening scenes to get us invested in them. The film gets off to a slow start with no implied promises that any of this is going anywhere.

I feel very strongly though that those willing to bear with these characters will be glad that they did. Pretty soon, it becomes obvious that there’s a lot more going on in the dynamics within the group than they pretend. There are some unspoken hurts here, at first only hinted at through passive aggression and sudden tantrums, but eventually fleshed out in some very sad scenes.

The pacing is a little slow but, once we start to get to know the people of Baler, we become fully engulfed in the film. Apocalypse Child is quite a beautiful study of characters myth and it’s brought to life by some very relaxed and naturalistic performances. Conversations casually jump from Tagalog to English and back again, adding to the feeling that you’re watching real people having real conversations.

Best of all, if you stick with this film, it’s not even a downer. It’s about healing as much as it is about pain. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, November 15, 3:45 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

Tickets can be purchased at the Reel Asian website.