Resourceful “Cavite” proves there’s more than one way to make a terrorism thriller. Following a young Filipino-American on a crazed journey as he’s forced to commit an act of terror by a faceless kidnapper, pic plunks hero and viewers down into the grinding poverty from which such terror sometimes springs. Pic is the most vitally political of the better American indies on the current fest circuit (where it nabbed prizes at South by Southwest and S.F. Asian American fests), and should score a deal with a risk-taking specialty distrib.
Co-director-writer-editor-soundman Ian Gamazon is practically the only on-screen character, tracked by a camera operated by co-director-writer-lenser-editor-soundman Neill Dela Llana. This two-man band has made a dramatic feature as one might make a docu on a single human subject. Ironically, this fertile filmmaking condition was borne of necessity rather than design, when initial casting plans for a female lead fell through.
Action is unsteady at first, with blurry nighttime footage in the small city of Cavite, near Manila. Shift to San Diego harbor, where Adam (Gamazon) works as a night guard and receives wordfrom his pregnant g.f. (Dominique Gonzalez) that she’s not willing to have a child with Muslim-raised Adam and therefore wants an abortion. A call from Adam’s family in the Philippines informs him that his father has just died.
Arriving at Manila airport to meet his family, Adam receives a cell phone call from a fierce-sounding stranger (a remarkable uncredited vocal perf) who claims to have kidnapped Adam’s loved ones as part of a mission for a terrorist group.
His sister’s severed finger is a sign the kidnapper means business.
Adam’s instructions take him around the impoverished streets of Cavite, in and out of people’s homes, across a polluted swamp, down gang-infested alley ways, and for cash exchanges that get more and more curious.
While the terrorist always seems to know where his prey is, this genre device, with echoes of “Phone Booth” and “Cellular,” is overwhelmed by the grim urban setting, relentless action and Gamazon’s admirably durable performance.
Pic departs from genre convention with an ending that delivers impressive impact. For a guerrilla-style, no-budget Yank indie to even tackle issues of jihad terror and naive Western thinking is noteworthy in itself, but Gamazon and Dela Llana inflame the issues with a gutsy, athletic filmmaking package that shows what can be done with a minimum of tools.