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Reconsidering religious fervor via ‘Kids on Fire’

Kyle Nieva’s dark comedy “Kids on Fire” tells the story of J.C., a prepubescent boy who – while on a religious camp – basically has a sexual awakening, and how he confuses this with some divine calling. Is it worth watching? We check…

As FYI: Finishing most of my early education in Christian educational institutions, attending “retreats”/religious camps was a given (at least once happens every year). And yes, when there, a lot happens – e.g. the incessant hectoring of the “spiritually superior”, participants doing what they’ve just been told not to do (like masturbating), and so on.

The entire experience is what Kyle Nieva is telling via the dark comedy “Kids on Fire”, which tells the story of J.C., a prepubescent boy who – while on a religious camp – basically has a sexual awakening, and how he confuses this with some divine calling.

That’s too… big a concept to contain in a short film, you say? Well, yes and no; this is why the film works, in a way, though this also limits the film’s ability to go deeper into the psyche of this one child (much more of the other children, considering the title mentions “kids”).

All in all, though, is “Kids on Fire” a film worth watching? I check…

PROS

  • Story’s succinct, e.g. as stated, it’s the story of a boy who has a sexual awakening while on a religious camp. The others are… merely “sahog”, add-ons to this coming of age narrative.
  • Clear shots (so kudos to director of photography Tey Clamor), e.g. lake scene, inside the van, etc.
  • Sound design “flows” (so kudos, too, to sound designer Kat Salinas).
  • Clean, even sleek, production (kudos to Alvin Francisco).
  • Actors that generally capture what’s expected from them, e.g. JC (Alexis Negrite) showing the confusion of a boy starting to discover his sexuality; and, yes, Mystica as the big-breasted Bible teacher who is unaware of her effects on the boy.

CONS

  • “Forced” comedy, e.g. “Wash your hands after pooping”, and the pretend “regional defect” of the guide (i.e. Mystica), that money shot (you know what I mean), etc.
  • Forced delivery of lines, e.g. “Lumilindol ba?”, “Nilalaro nyo ba ang birdie nyo?”, etc.
  • Some scenes are too long, e.g. the lecture in the lake, thereby highlighting the “forced” comedy mentioned above.
  • Too bad too many of those kids are inconsequential, so that we’re not really talking of kids on fire here, just one kid on fire.
  • It’s almost like Nieva didn’t know how to end this short film (after the lengthy chitchats in the lake, the lengthy praying in that space under the trees, etc).

IN THE END

This is no Carrie or (even) Sleepaway Camp; so don’t expect for a… deeper (and contradictory) analysis of what’s here.

But – now, looking back at how… weird some of those retreats attended in the past actually were – this film is a good study on so many things, e.g.

  1. self-righteousness of religious zealots;
  2. their failure to address actual concerns of participants (e.g. sexual awakening);
  3. zombie-like impact of “faith” on followers;
  4. etc.

And exactly because it was able to do this in such a short period of time (though it could have been shortened even more), “Kids on Fire” is… yes… worth a look.

“Kids on Fire” is part of the 17th edition of Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, running until September 5 ktx.ph (https://www.ktx.ph/).

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