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"Cavite": A low-budget thriller that speaks wonders
Special to The Seattle Times
"Cavite" will go down in history as a classic of no-budget filmmaking, making such ingenious use of bare resources that it's a wonder the movie is an effective, even thoughtful thriller.
There aren't many ingredients to this film, which took the "Somebody to Watch" citation at this year's Independent Spirit Awards: a camera; a clever writer-director (Ian Gamazon, collaborating with Neill Dela Llana) who is also cast in what is essentially the only onscreen role; the slum-ridden streets of Cavite, outside Manila; and a brutal, vocal-only performance. But those are enough.
The story of a Filipino-American man forced to help terrorists while encountering the Philippine culture and squalor his family rejected upon immigrating to the U.S., "Cavite" resonates hauntingly with our dangerous times.
Gamazon plays Adam, a night watchman from San Diego who travels to the Philippines to attend the funeral of his father, killed during a recent trip there. Adam leaves California in a dark and desperate mood, having been told by his pregnant girlfriend that she's planning to have an abortion. The reason: She doesn't want to raise a Muslim child, though Adam has shown little connection to his parents' faith.
Arriving in Manila, Adam hears the ringing of a cellphone that's been mysteriously slipped into his baggage. A scary, unidentified male voice on the other end informs him that his mother and sister have been kidnapped and will be killed unless Adam follows instructions.
The reach of that off-screen caller's all-knowing eye is preternatural. While Adam is made to travel vast distances — along streets, down alleys and over rickety bridges connecting squatters' huts — the villain knows his every move.
Eventually, the voice (supplied by an uncredited actor) reveals its link to a militant Islamic group that wants something stashed by Adam's once politically active father.
But the caller also attacks Adam's masculinity and forces him to face both the harsh reality of impoverishment and the texture of daily life in his native land. Adam is guided to a cockfight, made to swallow a balut (a fertilized duck egg) and berated for ignoring his Muslim heritage.
Throughout, Gamazon and Llana do little more than shoot images of Adam walking around while listening to the phone. This is truly on-the-fly filmmaking; nearly all the suspense is generated by the voice of an invisible enemy. It gets a little monotonous, but it works.
As in many thrillers — Ida Lupino's 1953 "The Hitch-Hiker" comes to mind — there's an implicit suggestion in "Cavite" that the antagonist is a manifestation of something latent, or recently unhinged, in the monster's victims.
That implication is strong in "Cavite," having to do with Adam's identity, roots and beliefs in light of recent, unsettling developments in his life. That voice on the phone is a terrorist, but perhaps more like Adam than he knows.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company