Cavite by gutsy Philipine-American filmmakers Neilla Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon will probably be cited in years to come as a classic example of the post-9/11 action thriller. Jihadist terror is worked into Cavite not only as a plot device, but, more subversively, as a subject of socioeconomic critique. As Adam (played by co-director and co-writer Gamazon), the movie’s hapless young victim, moves through Cavite–the Philippine city of the movie’s title–we glean the close proximity between those who wield terror, and the society in which such people thrive. Dela Llana’s camera turns its eye unflinchingly on the squalid warrens and streets in which a desperate population must live, beholden to both an oppressive poverty and to the American fast food and soft drink multinationals that feed upon them, monopolizing their values. A withering examination of the correlation between terrorism, poverty, and globalization is not foremost on the minds of Cavite’s makers, but it is bound up tightly to its action and setting–both of which are so vividly realized that they generate much of the energy and appeal behind Dela Llana and Gamazon’s script. From the get-go, it’s clear that a delirious desire to make a frenetic thriller is what drove these tag-team filmmakers; you can practically hear the snap and sizzle of sparks around the edges of its images and the soldering-iron editing. Cavite was made for very little money, but what it has in spades is passion, talent, and a tightly structured script–ingredients that trounce any amount of money a studio will throw into own routine product.
The movie gets off the blocks fast, a little too fast, as Adam arrives in the title city to attend his father’s funeral when a cellphone call from a member of a terror outfit informs him that he has kidnapped his mother and sister. The terrorist-caller threatens to kill them both if the befuddled Adam does not comply with his demands. An odyssey undertaken by foot and rickshaw, through the city’s rank and stifling streets, ensues as Adam, his ear trained to the cellphone, abides by everything the terrorist orders him to do, however whimsical or dangerous. The patter between Adam and the terrorist can get tedious, but it’s appropriately tense, spiked by the latter’s taunts and Adam’s desperate efforts for answers and explanations. And what Adam finds out is exactly what makes Cavite so noteworthy: a conflation of the personal and the political, in which his alienated relationship with his deceased father is suddenly altered by a revelation that not only challenges his impression of him, but holds the lives of many innocent civilians in the balance. It’s Cavite’s trump card, and it plays it wonderfully, weighing Adam’s panic and guilt over the actions he’s ordered to take against his own roiling conscience.
What makes Cavite so absorbing, however, is also what works against it. Dela Llana and Gamazon are so gonzo about making their movie that they forget about variation. If they’d been more mindful about rhythm, about modulating mood, their narrative could’ve benefited in the manner that all of Hitchcock’s did so brilliantly. Unfortunately, in this sense, Cavite is a one-trick pony. Even in Adam’s quieter early moments and during his exhausted intervals later on, the filmmakers can’t help but jangle the movie (and our nerves) with ill-placed hyperkinetic tension. A little of Cavite truly goes a long way. Then again, I’d choose a filmmaker who has too much love for his medium any day over one who hasn’t enough, or, worse yet, is plain indifferent to it. The latter, if you don’t already know, is the prevailing industry standard. Thank your stars for Cavite.
Directed by: Neill Dela Llana, Ian Gamazon
Written by: Neill Dela Llana, Ian Gamazon
Cast: Ian Gamazon, Dominique Gonzalez, Jeffrey Lagda