(Warning: This article may contain “About Us But Not About Us” spoilers.)
I’ve always been a fan of psychological thrillers—especially those that are characterized by action-packed sequences and elaborate special effects. They peel off the layers of the human psyche in a graphic way, effectively exposing the raw (and often ugly) truth that most people try so hard to conceal. They disturb your peace and mess with your mind by explicitly and unapologetically demonstrating how everyone, even the seemingly principled ones, can be capable of the most unspeakable acts.
Award-winning director Jun Robles Lana’s “About Us But Not About Us” is different, though, as it promises a fresh treatment to the genre. Instead of relying heavily on visual stimuli, the film, which took home 10 awards during its Summer Metro Manila Film Festival premiere, banks on the power of words (and the delivery of the actors) to bring to life a story that’s supposed to be unsettling and riveting. It’s as if the viewers are given full liberty to create imagery based on their subjective interpretations of the narrative, and to make sense of things that are only hinted at through dialogue.
So, as I settle into my seat in the dimly lit theater, I remember asking myself: “How can a movie with such limited resources possibly hold my attention for about an hour and a half?” But my doubts are immediately put to rest the moment Eric (a gay professor in his 40s played by Romnick Sarmenta) appears on the screen. He’s wordlessly sitting in his car, with the camera focusing on his eyes reflected in the rearview mirror.
Contrary to the conventional notion of psycho-thriller cinema, the opening scene of “About Us But Not About Us” is relatively subdued—almost to the point of being mundane—but the subtle sense of dread that hangs in the air seems to foreshadow an ominous turn of events.
The film doesn’t waste time on unnecessary exposition and cheap thrills. Instead, it unfolds the narrative in a deliberate and almost methodical manner: Chaotic, but not too overwhelming. Raw, but carefully constructed.
Eric steps out not long after and enters a fancy-looking restaurant. He’s greeted by Lance (a twentysomething aspiring novelist played by Elijah Canlas)—who turns out to be a literature student he has taken under his wing. As an invisible fourth person (you’ll know what I mean as you read through) in the room, it’s easy to dismiss their initial exchange as casual professor-student chitchat. But what seems to be a lighthearted talk soon escalates into full-blown psychological warfare that delivers unpleasant blows to both parties.
Stories of their (complicated) personal histories and revelations from their shared past slowly chip away at their facade, exposing the deep-seated anguish, guilt, and frustration that have been festering within them for the longest time. It’s a verbal dance of manipulation and vulnerability—each line dripping with tension, each pause pregnant with meaning. The film doesn’t waste time on unnecessary exposition and cheap thrills. Instead, it unfolds the narrative in a deliberate and almost methodical manner: Chaotic, but not too overwhelming. Raw, but carefully constructed.
Its technical limitations work to its advantage, too. Eric and Lance’s disturbing chat juxtaposed with the elegant and sterile environment of the restaurant trigger an unsettling contrast, further intensifying the emotional impact of the dialogue. It gives off a feeling of suffocation—as if the characters are trapped in a space that’s supposed to be pristine and calm, but is now tainted by their inner demons. At one point, listening in on their conversation feels almost invasive. It’s like eavesdropping on something I shouldn’t be privy to, but for some reason, I can’t seem to disregard it until everything has been laid bare.
Similar to what the film’s title implies, Eric’s and Lance’s stories are about them, but not entirely about them. They keep mentioning a name throughout their talk—someone whom I consider the film’s third protagonist.
As the layers of their psyche are stripped off, it becomes apparent that Eric and Lance aren’t the only ones with secrets to hide. The restaurant itself holds clues to the past and to the private meetings that took place within its walls. Similar to what the film’s title implies, Eric’s and Lance’s stories are about them, but not entirely about them. They keep mentioning a name throughout their talk—someone whom I consider the film’s third protagonist. Despite not being there in a literal sense, his looming presence and influence over Eric and Lance are too palpable that it almost feels like he’s in the room with them.
He’s a pivotal figure that can tie up all loose ends and provide answers to the questions that have been nagging at everybody’s mind, but due to an unanticipated circumstance, he can never do so even if he wanted to. This ultimately leaves Eric and Lance with irreparable emotional wounds, unresolved issues, and inner demons that will continue to haunt them even after stepping out of the restaurant.
With the credits rolling down and the lights coming back on, I find myself lost in thought. “About Us But Not About Us” doesn’t provide answers or neat resolutions, leaving room for interpretation and introspection. In fact, a few Qs linger in my mind even after I’ve left the cinema—some don’t seem to have straightforward answers, while others make me reassess my own actions and beliefs.
“Does trauma justify moral ambiguity?”
In a nutshell, “About Us But Not About Us” is a tale of betrayal, guilt, and regret. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that people can be cruel, selfish, and manipulative… that sometimes, redemption is elusive. And honestly, it’s rare to see a piece of media that captures the human condition in such an unvarnished manner.
It’s easy to sympathize with someone who’s been through a lot, but where do we draw the line between understanding and enabling destructive behavior? Between empathy and accountability?
Eric and Lance aren’t your typical protagonists—they’re not even likable if you ask me. They are neither superheroes with extraordinary powers nor one-dimensional villains who revel in their evil deeds. Eric and Lance are flawed, complex, and arguably despicable at times. They are the kind of characters that would make us uncomfortable because we can see a bit of ourselves in them—and would make us ask ourselves, “What would I do if I were in their shoes?”
Their actions, although morally questionable, are understandable in the context of their experiences. But does that make them excusable? It’s easy to sympathize with someone who’s been through a lot, but where do we draw the line between understanding and enabling destructive behavior? Between empathy and accountability? How do we balance the need for justice with the need for compassion? It’s a complex issue that challenges the viewers to examine their own perspectives on morality.
“How do we even deal with inner demons?”
Inner demons aren’t exclusive to a select few. They are in all of us—some are just better at managing them than others. And while they generally manifest in different ways, Eric and Lance’s conversation is a microcosm of the struggles that we face when it comes to confronting ours.
But is self-reflection enough for us to move forward? How do we deal with the parts of ourselves that we don’t even want to acknowledge? Do we force ourselves to confront them head-on or just bury them deep down in the recesses of our minds, hoping that they won’t resurface? Do we seek help, or do we continue to suffer in silence?
“Is closure necessary for healing?”
Closure is a luxury that not everybody can afford… [but] in the absence of it, where do we find other ways to heal? How do we cope with uncertainties and the lack of resolution?
Eric and Lance’s meeting isn’t just a simple reunion of two individuals with a shared history. It’s a confrontation, a reckoning, a chance for closure. Although it hasn’t led to a resolution—and has dredged up more pain and regret—it (at least) provided them with an opportunity to confront their past and come to terms with it. But does closure always lead to healing? Or is it just a temporary balm that masks the underlying wounds? Is it an important step in the process of moving on or a mere illusion that we cling to because it gives us a false sense of control?
Closure is a luxury that not everybody can afford, and “About Us But Not About Us” acknowledges that. It’s not always possible to get clear-cut answers to the questions hanging in the air. But in the absence of it, where do we find other ways to heal? How do we cope with uncertainties and the lack of resolution?
“Are ambitions worth sacrificing principles for?”
Lance has always dreamt of becoming an extremely successful novelist, but his aspiration comes at a great cost. His actions in the film reveal a willingness to compromise his integrity, manipulate those around him, and lie to get what he wants. To be fair, there’s a backstory that can (somehow but barely) justify his behavior, but it still begs the question: Is it worth it? And if so, what does that say about him as a person?
It’s a question that resonates with many of us, especially in a society that puts a premium on external validation, recognition, and professional titles. The film challenges us to reflect on the trade-offs we make to achieve our goals, and whether or not it’s worth betraying our own values to get there.
Watching it feels like working on a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces—you can see the edges and the shapes they’re supposed to be, but there are gaping holes where important pieces should be.
In the end, “About Us But Not About Us” proves that a film doesn’t need flashy effects or a sprawling cast to make an impact. Sometimes, all it takes is two actors, a posh restaurant, and a tight script that’s unafraid to explore the human condition in all its messy, unpredictable glory. In Gen Z language, the production team had two dollars and a dream, yet they were able to make it work.
Watching it feels like working on a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces—you can see the edges and the shapes they’re supposed to be, but there are gaping holes where important pieces should be. It leaves you with more questions than answers. But sometimes, that’s exactly what we need to confront the demons that lie within us.
P.S. For the “it gets worse before it gets better” trope enjoyers, I’m sorry (not really) to announce that no happily-ever-afters await you in “About Us But Not About Us.” The film stays true to its bleak and thought-provoking nature until the very end. It may not be an easy watch, but it’s worth the emotional investment.
Stills from “About Us But Not About Us”