Jacqueline Comes Home opens with a disclaimer: “Inspired by a retelling of a tragic story.” As a disclaimer, it isn’t very specific about what concerns it might be hedging, but it does set a tone for what will end up being a far stranger movie than one might be expecting. It is a retelling of the 1997 Chiong murder case, where sisters Jacqueline and Marijoy (played here by Meg Imperial and Donnalyn Bartolome) were abducted and then subsequently murdered. In this movie, the perpetrators were a group of men led by Sonny (Ryan Eigenmann). The movie goes on to follow Thelma Chiong (Alma Moreno), the mother, who struggles to reconnect with normal life following the tragedy.
It is probably best to put aside first what one might think about the Chiong sisters case. There are certainly plenty of disputed facts on display, but it is always prudent to take a movie at face value. But even given this leeway, the movie is still terrible. It becomes clear fairly early on that the movie is either uninterested or incapable of delivering a coherent or compelling narrative, and is instead designed solely to respond to the various allegations that have floated around in the twenty years since the actual events of the case.
There is merit to the idea of telling the side of the Chiongs, but the movie oversteps its bounds. Because this isn’t just a story of a good family that fell victim to some bad forces. It certainly doesn’t stick to what the family knows. It spends a lot of its time with the perpetrators, making sure to paint them as a dangerous crew of maniacs with a pattern of awful behavior. It is not an unseen force that takes away the girls. It is a group of meth-taking, gun-toting, generally abusive monsters who commit their first gang rape in the very first act of the movie.
The movie is ostensibly condemning their behavior, but at the same time, it is revelling in the puerile content that emerges from these sequences. The film skips around the timeline a lot, seemingly to keep the most transgressive content for the climax. It creates a structure that is confusing and often frustrating. The movie also throws in random scenes that seem to directly address some of the controversy. There is a sequence that involves some law students talking about the possibility that some of the accused were actually innocent. The scene ends with everyone concluding that we should all have faith in the justice system, instead of questioning it when things seem strange. It is a completely laughable sentiment, and it is delivered in a sequence that doesn’t even involve any of the primary characters.
The movie only gets stranger. At one point, there is a seance. The whole denouement basically begins with God literally talking to Thelma Chiong, and it spirals into a direct response to the conspiracy theory involving the younger sister Debbie Chiong. It is such a bizarre response that it might give one pause. We do not endorse any of these outlandish conspiracy theories, but the resolution comes from such a strange position that we are forced to consider some of these stranger possibilities. And all this is delivered in your standard bad movie package, with baffling framing and awful overacting all throughout.
Jacqueline Comes Home is worse than we could have ever imagined. Because it is not enough for this movie to tell the true story of the Chiongs as seen by the family. It isn’t enough for the movie to validate the version of events as they played out. It instead goes into much more reprehensible territory, combining what little facts there are with a whole lot of fearmongering, almost slanderous fiction. There is a disclaimer at the start, but it hardly goes far enough in informing the audience of what they’re about to see. Our disclaimer would read: “Go watch Michael Collins’ and Mary Syjuco’s Give Up Tomorrow instead.”
Jacqueline Comes Home is Currently in Cinemas