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Cavite

Cavite

Not rated, 80 min. Directed by Ian Gamazon, Neill Dela Llana. Starring Gamazon, Dominique Gonzalez.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 14, 2006

AFS@Dobie It's well-nigh impossible to watch or discuss Gamazon and Llana's riveting and relentless debut feature without the word guerilla coming to mind – in every respect, this rocketing thriller is one of the purest examples of no-budget, seat-of-the-pants, gloriously DIY filmmaking since The Blair Witch Project in 1999. To paraphrase the marketing campaign from another ultra-indie thriller some three decades back: To avoid gnawing your nails to the quick, keep repeating, "It's only a movie." Unlike the snakepit sleaze of Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, which stripmined Bergman's for all the grindhouse grue it could eviscerate, Cavite's doomy pas de deux between an unseen Filipino terrorist and his unwitting Filipino-American dupe is much, much more than the simple cat-and-mouser it appears to be. It's also a cunning meditation on the birthing grounds of religious extremism, an examination of the fragile and infinitely malleable nature of cultural identity, and a gripping emotional roller coaster with all the brakes off and the Saf-T-Bar's cotter pin removed. Thirty-two-year old Adam (Gamazon) is a San Diego rent-a-cop who returns to his native Philippines to attend the funeral of his father. We don't get much backstory here – the film is off like a shot – but what we do learn is key: Adam is in a rut, grinding his gears in a dead-end job while his relationship with girlfriend Gonzalez is quietly imploding. Once he's arrived at the Manila airport, Adam searches in vain for his mother until he discovers an envelope in his bag that contains pictures of his mother and sister, along with a cell phone, which rings. The caller is a member of the Filipino terror organization Abu Sayyaf, and in an eerily conversational tone he tells Adam that his family has been kidnapped and that their only chance for survival lies with Adam, who must follow their captor's byzantine instructions to the letter. Once inside the befouled environs of the Cavité City slums, a severed finger is quickly introduced to prove the caller means what he says. Cavite kicks into high gear here and downshifts only when it ends. In between, it's a model of low-budget filmmaking skill, shot by co-director Llana on handheld digital video (which adds tremendously to the sense of gritty verisimilitude) and accompanied by an atonal, staccato soundtrack that does absolutely nothing to relieve the viewer's mounting sense of dread. As the disembodied voice on the other end of the line chastises Adam, in both Tagalog and English, for having little appreciation or understanding of his native culture or the strictures of the Prophet, the film takes on an almost documentary feel, although tonally it has far more in common with the mindfucking sense of cultural disassociation found in, say, Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust. Cavite isn't a horror film, per se – its nightmarish sense of unreality is thoroughly grounded in the geopolitical here and now – but the emotions it conjures from the audience can be traced straight back to Shockers 101. It intrinsically poses the question, "How do you fight the faceless, alien Other?" And then it goes one horrific step further, asking, "And what do you do when that Other is you?" (See p. 52 of this week's Screens section for more about the movie and a guest appearance at this weekend's evening shows.)
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