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Pandemic serves as backdrop for high school thriller

STREAMING services WeTV and iflix are opening 2021 with their newest Filipino original, Section St. Valentine: the Disappearance of Divine, a mystery thriller set within a fictional Manila International School where a group of students try to solve the sudden disappearance of one of their classmates.

Section St. Valentine: the Disappearance of Divine is something we’re truly, truly proud of. Conceptualized and shot during the height of the lockdown, the series proved that we in the entertainment industry will be okay — that we will find ways to continue crafting compelling stories and creating great entertainment that our audience will enjoy,” Georgette Tengco, Philippine country manager of WeTV and iflix, said in a press conference on Jan. 13 held via Zoom.

The series, which started streaming on the platform on Jan. 15., is written and directed by Philip King and produced by Shugo Praico of Rein Entertainment.

“The concept of it [came from] the pandemic when there was a lack of connection to everyone,” Mr. King said in the same press conference, adding that despite this, the connections that had already been made before the pandemic “cut across this time.”

“The friendship of the lead characters lead them to keep looking for Divine,” he explained.

Section St. Valentine revolves around Divine Concepcion (played by Arielle Roces), a senior high school student who makes it her mission to expose the dirty underbelly of the school despite being the granddaughter of the school’s chairman, and her fellow film club members James Pasyon (Royce Cabrera), Matthew Tagle (Jem Macatuno), Anna Hizon (Aedel Pena), and Brian Tenchavez (Raphael Robles) who search for her after she disappears.

The first episode of the series presented itself as a good exposition to the story and laid out all the circumstances that led to the disappearance of the titular character: how she antagonized her own grandfather in a Zoom meeting with the student body, asking why the scholars’ tuition have not been covered yet, why a varsity basketball coach suddenly has a new luxury car, and why donated computers that are supposed to go to public schools are in an international school.

The provocative Divine has a penchant of sticking her mobile phone camera into the faces of the people she’s running an expose on, and using a voice-changing device to harass her grandfather about funding, and wearing a Salvador Dali mask a la Casa de Papel to add to the suspense. But her well-meaning actions eventually lead to her disappearance and it’s up to her friends, admittedly less courageous than her, to find out where she is.

The first episode of the series feels like the creators already know where the story will lead, and while the newbie actors still need to polish their acting chops, it does make for a compelling series to watch.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, Section St. Valentine was shot in a “bubble” — cast and crew were segregated to keep the chance of catching COVID-19 to the minimum — and while there are many shots done outdoors, much of the story is shot and told via Zoom calls which lends to the overall suspense because it shows that inasmuch as Divine’s friends want her found, they are limited in what they can actually do by the pandemic.

Section St. Valentine may be a good watch if one is looking for a mystery thriller set within a pandemic and it tackles issues about schools adapting to the pandemic and the corruption of educational institutions.

The WeTV Original series Section St. Valentine: the Disappearance of Divine streams every Friday, 7 p.m., on WeTV and iflix for free. — Z.B. Chua

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