Rap Film ‘Respeto’ Writer Njel de Mesa’s Newest Suspense Thriller: ‘Coronaphobia’

With the new wave of Coronavirus infections sweeping both locally and globally, Njel de Mesa’s cautionary tale about four stranded tourists in Manila during the lockdowns forced to go on a heist, could not have been more timely. If you’re one of those people who has been itching to teach those people who still don’t believe that COVID-19 is real with a lesson on how to properly wear their face masks, this film is probably for you.

After his controversial film “KontrAdiksyon” (which was lauded by the President and bashed by oppositionists), and his award-winning rap film “Respeto” (which he wrote), Njel de Mesa comes back as writer-director-producer to his favorite film genre: the suspense-thriller.

“In a nutshell, it’s a heist gone wrong,” says Njel de Mesa about his new film. But for whatever divine reason, Coronaphobia’s trailer was dropped on the same day Njel’s dad (renowned theologian, José de Mesa) passed away due to COVID-19. No pun intended, the trailer went viral on Facebook and Instagram while the film’s director was unexpectedly in mourning. Perhaps the message of the film should be heard loud and clear: on one hand, we should not underestimate the virus—and on the other, we should not lose our sense of compassion and humanity during this pandemic.

The full-length, suspense-thriller will be available on popular streaming platforms yet to be announced and it stars well-known celebrities such as Daiana Menezes, Will Devaughn, Paolo Paraiso—while introducing half-Pinay, half-Dutch host-athlete-model Cay Kuijpers, and hip-hop-rap recording artist from USA Tommie King.

“When Direk Njel told me of the film’s high-concept, I was all-in! With regards to the nudity, I guess you can’t really call it gratuitous since the plot calls for it. That’s why I agreed to it,” Eat Bulaga alum, Daiana Menezes, recalls. Based on Paolo Paraiso’s anecdotes, the project was a work of passion where everyone had to “double-up” with regards to their actual roles on-set. Much to his delight, in this project, he finally got a chance to be a legitimate and bona fide Assistant Director for a full-length feature.

Also, and quite noticeably, Will Devaughn’s acting is quite superlative in this film. “Perhaps it’s liberating to speak in my first language—that helped. But even though the film is fully in English, the rest of the film is predominantly visual,” Will explains.

Njel obviously wanted to write a plot where his cast can keep wearing their face masks and face shields while shooting and during takes—unlike in most productions where actors would eventually have to take them off. “It’s for safety reasons. And I thought it would be such a shame if I don’t even address or chronicle this time of our lives albeit utterly horrible. Most filmmakers or producers would rather write stories that make it appear that the characters didn’t go through or weren’t going through the COVID-19 pandemic. But we’re proud to have filmed a story about the pandemic with a skeletal film crew during the pandemic,” recalls the director.

“I got to do stunt work and action scenes—which I have always been discouraged to do,” says Cay Kuijpers, who’s been working as a model and was a Bb. Pilipinas Candidate. Even rapper Tommie King, who was recently signed by Def Jam Philippines, could not keep his excitement saying, “I live in Atlanta where a lot of MCU films are being shot and it feels like making films is a part of my heritage. After my experience with Direk Njel, I gained more appreciation for how films are made!”

When asked if they’re not afraid of their film not receiving a theatrical release due to COVID-19 restrictions, Njel de Mesa has this to say: “The cast of our film was formed quite serendipitously. I want to offer the film to my dad who was my first movie buddy. If it were just about timing, I don’t think this film’s release should wait for the cinemas to reopen. Of course, I want to see it on a big screen—but cinema now is evolving and it’s not up to us. And the message of the film, even though done in an entertaining way, is more important now than it will ever be in the future.”

(ALSO READ: Meet Kelsy Lua, an LA-Based Filipino Filmmaker Making Award-Winning Short Films)

Check out the full trailer of “Coronaphobia” at www.facebook.com/NDMstudios

What are your thoughts on this upcoming film? Let us know in the comments!


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