Contrary to what you may have read in the Style & Glamour section of your local high school school newspaper, yours truly most certainly does not spend every waking hour of his miserable life filling his brain with senseless B-movies and thoughtless schlock. Sometimes I need a film with substance, one that sticks to my skinny little ribs like whores to drug store cosmetics.
While it doesn't happen very often, dear readers, there are moments in between Seagal flops and grotesque mutant genitalia documentaries when I get the urge for a truly remarkable motion picture experience. It's not something I'm very proud of, so please don't tell your parents. I've heard they look up to me, and I wouldn't want to disappoint them.
Some might say that I could find a much better film than Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon's low-budget thriller Cavite to spend my "serious" cinematic time with. These people, of course, might be right. After all, there are better films sitting silently on your favorite video store's dusty shelves right now, begging some clueless suburban soccer mom to gently retrieve them from their retail prison and take them home for the evening. I openly admit that. Furthermore, this film isn't really any better than an "expensive home video," to borrow a quote from one of the directors. So yes, I guess you could say there are better films to investigate.
That said, but a fraction of these so-called "superior films" are as emotionally charged as Cavite, and only half of those have something to say. Using the thriller genre as a means to an end, Llana and Gamazon thrust their unsuspecting audience into a very disturbed world, one that many of us have probably never seen before. It's a jarring adventure, for sure, filled with visuals so poignant and breathtakingly bleak that you'll soon forget all about one man's heartbreaking decision in favor of the bigger picture. Not many thrillers can honestly claim that.
Writer/director Ian Gamazon stars as Adam, a Filipino-American thirty-something who spends his nights working as a security guard for a marina in California. When he receives word of his father's death, Adam immediately boards a plane for his homeland to attend the funeral. When he arrives at the airport, however, his mother and sister are nowhere to be found. The answers to his questions soon arrive in the form of a cell phone call from a strange man who claims to have kidnapped his immediate family.
According to this shady gentleman, Adam is to follow a series detailed instructions precisely and effectively, regardless of the task. Only then will these sadistic madmen release his loved ones with life and limb intact. Adam, of course, reluctantly agress to the mission, not knowing where he must go or what he must do. As our hero sinks deeper into a world he never knew, he is forced to make a life-altering decision, one that could spare two lives for the price of many.
Shot with a handheld camera and a hell of a lot of ambition, Cavite does what few Hollywood thrillers manage to do — thrill. The film is deliberately paced, taking a few moments to let you peek at Adam's daily rituals, to get to know the fellow you're about to spend 70 very intense minutes with. The relationship with his girlfriend is explored, as well as his anxiety about returning to his birthplace, a country that is as foreign to Adam as it is to me. Once he arrives in the Philippines, however, the action is stepped up a notch and things get very interesting very quickly.
Visually speaking, the movie is phenomenal. The towns, neighborhoods, and ghettos Adam visits during this very unusual rescue mission are nothing short of exhilarating. The decision to use a handheld camera — based mostly on budgetary limitations, I think — contributes greatly to the film's atmosphere. Since the cameraman is basically following Gamazon around as the story unfolds, the end result is a feeling of complete and total immersion. You're right there with him, seeing these staggering sights through his eyes. Impressive stuff.
It helps matters greatly that the script is so well-written and smart, peppered with believable dialogue and unpredictable twists. Even the movie's villain is handled in a realistic fashion, a trait that is often absent from Cavite's big-budget Hollywood counterparts. Despite being a bit over-the-top in his political ravings, the voice on the phone is never a cartoon character, never a joke. This guy means business, and he's not above showing you just how serious he can get when things aren't going his way. Having the viewer buy what the narrative's antagonist is selling, in my humble opinion, is essential in making films of this nature work. On that end, Cavite definitely delivers.
Finally, Ian Gamazon's turn as Adam is both solid and genuinely affecting. This guy keeps everything from spilling over into campy 24 territory. You want to see this guy prevail, you want to see him rescue his family without having to compromise his beliefs and his morals. And when everything is said and done, you can see how this experience has changed his life forever, even if those changes aren't quite as apparent as some may prefer. Subtlety, in this case, speaks volumes.
I really have nothing negative to say about this little flick at all. Cavite belittled my expectations and shattered my preconceived notions of what a low-budget foreign thriller is supposed to be. Everything fits together perfectly, from the directors' stylistic choices to the raw performance from its lead. Intelligent thrillers are hard to come by these days, so take advantage of the genuine articles whenever you have the opportunity. Who knows? Maybe a copy is hiding at a video store in a neighborhood near you. If not, find some way to locate this gem post-haste.
Even if that means you have to eat an unfertilized egg to do so.