Micro-thriller a Blockbuster at Heart


A paragon of guerrilla resourcefulness, Ian Gamazon and Neill Dela Llana’s micro-thriller is a more anxious and vivid experience than most movies with budgets literally a thousand times bigger. Made for little more than the cost of two plane tickets to Manila, Cavite uses a real-time ransom countdown to orchestrate a tour through the slum-ridden titular town. Adam (Gamazon), a lapsed Muslim, travels from San Diego to Manila for his father’s funeral and promptly finds himself a pawn in a terrorist plot, taking instructions via cell phone from an unseen Abu Sayyaf operative who has kidnapped his mother and sister. Despite its indie ingenuity, Cavite is a blockbuster at heart, a no-budget relation to screenwriter Larry Cohen’s beat-the-clock contraptions Cellular and Phone Booth. But the movie’s documentary elements are its selling point: Dela Llana’s video camera shadows Gamazon through the squatter camps and garbage mountains on the outskirts of the Philippine capital. Fueled by guilt, sorrow, and above all, visceral alienation, the film is a nightmare vision of an expatriate’s homecoming—and some kind of landmark in diaspora cinema.