WHERE IS THE LIE? (Slamdance 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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Janzen Torres (EJ Jallorina) – or simply Zen to her friends – loves love, but love doesn’t seem to love her back. She falls easily; perhaps a little too easily, as her friends gently warn her. She is, to opt for the Filipino vernacular, “marupok as fuck”, which also happens to be the alternate title to Quark Henares’s feature Where Is the Lie?, now playing Slamdance.

The lie in question here is not Zen’s, who’s open and trustworthy to a fault, a young trans woman (“pre-op, no boobs” as she describes herself) who has surrendered herself completely to the world of online dating. Little does she know, however, that she has become the target of a vicious transphobe and social media influencer called Beanie Landridos (Maris Racal) who decides to catfish Zen with the help of an ambitious himbo from Quezon City called Dennis (Royce Cabrera). What lies in store, however, surprises all of them.

Where Is The Lie? is a vibrant bubblegum-colored dramedy about transphobia and social media based – shockingly – on a real-life story that went viral on Twitter. Henares knows a lot about how to make a film pop; aside from being an experienced filmmaker, in late 2022 he was appointed Head of Originals, Philippines at Prime Video & Amazon Studios.

But even aside from its real world origins, at the heart of Where Is The Lie? is the extraordinary performance of Jallorina herself, a trans actress who is the heart and soul of the movie. A well-known child star in the Philippines, much of Jallorina’s life has played out in public, with significant personal milestones all taking place under the public eye. She surely knows first hand the power and pressure of social media on young trans women in this region.

Incorporated into a story that explicitly maps out many of the challenges trans women face here such as the horrific murder of Filipina trans woman Jennifer Laude by a US Marine in 2014 and ugly ongoing public debates about the use of public toilets, Henares brings in more generically familiar material to give his film shape. In its lighter moments, the film almost plays out as a queer contemporary social media version of Cyrano de Bergerac with a pinch of cyberbullying thrown in for luck.

It is in these moments that What Is The Lie? is perhaps at its least engaging; the vicious transphobie Beanie is a repugnant, disgusting character, and anything more generous than that seems to risk feeling intuitively at odds with the movie’s broader inclusive spirit. Thankfully, however, those fears are allayed largely by the film’s conclusion, an important reminder of just how seriously this movie and those making it take their subject matter.

Most importantly, perhaps, what rises to the surface in almost every scene she is in is the powerful presence of Jallorina herself; a great actress who just oozes screen presence, we can only hope that Hollywood is taking note because this is a star in the making.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).