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CAVITE (director/writer: Neill Dela Llana/Ian Gamazon; cinematographer: Neill Dela Llana; editor: Neill Dela Llana/Ian Gamazon; music: Ato Mariano; cast: Ian Gamazon (Adam), Dominique Gonzalez (Dana); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Quynn Ton/Neill Dela Llana/Ian Gamazon; Magnolia Pictures; 2005-USA/Philippines-in English/Filipino/Tagalog-with English subtitles)
“A harrowing but ultimately empty indie political thriller about Muslim terrorists.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A harrowing but ultimately empty indie political thriller about Muslim terrorists that is more than a little exploitative of the current world’s dilemma; it also shows how a summer blockbuster-like thriller can be done stylishly and on the cheap. It’s co-written and co-directed by Filipino-Americans Ian Gamazon and Neill Dela Llana, who use a shaky hand-held camera for their DV shot film–which actually helps create a naturalistic feeling.

The 32-year-old Filipino-American security guard from San Diego, Adam (Ian Gamazon), a lapsed Muslim, is disheartened over his white American girlfriend Dana’s plans for an abortion, as he talks with her before taking off for the Philippines to attend the funeral of his estranged father. At the Manila airport his mom and sister fail to appear, instead he finds a ringing cell phone in his backpack and an envelope with photos of mom and sis gagged. He quickly learns from an unseen Abu Sayyaf operative that he better follow their commands or mom and sis will be maimed, raped and killed. It leads to an unpleasant tour through the slums of the titular town (located on the outskirts of Manila), a place where tourists seldom venture. The use of real time and the unpredictability of what dangers await heighten the tension, as the kidnapper mocks and intimidates the uncomfortable Adam. The Americanized Adam is called out for forgetting his Muslim roots and is put through the wringer by the callous caller as he spells out his extremist Muslim views and the rage burning inside him that is so great he wants to strike back at anything to do with western society. The nightmare scenario takes us inside a squatter’s camp, a seemly cockfight arena and sundry slum locations such as where the impoverished children are viewed as forced to prostitute themselves to support their families. The caller berates Adam for not being a good Muslim and not being into the jihad, and his voice is not unlike the frightening militant psycho kidnappers heard on Al Jazeera videotapes from too many other such kidnappings. It’s disturbing, to say the least, especially since it’s unrelenting and never lets the viewer off the hook with anything entertaining or enlightening. It serves as a warning to a topical story we have already been sufficiently warned about over the past few years, and the familiar plot line could be viewed as the poorman filmmaker’s “Phone Booth.” While touching base on the questions plaguing the world today, it’s short on answers or anything but intensity. But for a film shot in 10 days for $7,000, it’s better than most blockbusters.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”