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Review: Islands

April 11, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Writer-director Martin Edralin’s debut feature Islands is a simmering and powerful portrait of the loneliness epidemic as seen through the eyes of Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas), a very shy Filipino immigrant living in Toronto.

Joshua is a middle-aged man who still lives with his elderly parents. He’s never had a girlfriend, but craves companionship and is terrified of ending up alone, praying everyday that God will find him a wife. When he ends up having to take on the role of primary caregiver to his aging father (Esteban Comilang), who is in early stages of dementia, his overseas cousin Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco) comes to help, leading to some confusing feelings.

What Edralin’s film does so well is capture the sense of stagnation that comes with loneliness, unfolding mostly through long takes and master shots. The film shows the routines of Joshua’s life that he carries out with a sort of rigid repetition, whether it be walking on his treadmill or praying to the religious icons that he keeps in his room (and covering them with a cloth before masturbating).

The film could have felt too slow or subdued, but it instead casts a sort of spell in how it observes the mundane moments of Joshua’s life. Edralin directs with confidence in his stylistic choices, even showing a microwave counting down for an entire minute as Joshua heats up leftovers (a clear but surprisingly effective metaphor). Balagtas, who received a Canadian Screen Award nomination, carries the film with his remarkably internal performance as a shy man who possibly has undiagnosed autism, allowing him to blossom in quiet ways as he struggles with the feelings that he is starting to develop. That this is his debut feature just makes his performance even more impressive.

The film unfolds with such patience and tenderness for its characters, that even the story’s somewhat predictable foray into potentially taboo territory is handled with genuine sensitivity. The film palpably and powerfully captures the fear of being alone, and the desperation that comes with it, building to a bittersweet crescendo that manages to be quietly hopeful without feeling false.

Islands is opening in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto on April 12th, and will be expanding to other Canadian cities in the coming weeks (full details below). It’s being distributed in Canada by Circus Zero Films.

April 12th – TIFF Bell Lightbox (Toronto)
April 15th-28th – Winnipeg Cinematheque (Winnipeg)
April 15th-21st – VIFF Centre (Vancouver)
April 29th – Cineplex Cinemas Mississauga and Cineplex Cinemas Scarborough (Ontario)

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