If, in synopsis form, the Filipino thriller Cavite sounds a whole lot like the movies Phone Booth and/or Cellular, rest assured that those comparisons are not lost among the filmmakers. But they've also been putting this thing together for several years, so it's more a case of creative coincidence than anything plagiaristic in nature. Plus the movie's not really all that similar to those two Hollywood hits, except perhaps on the surface.
Adam is back in his homeland of the Philippines to attend his father's funeral. The poor guy has all sorts of stresses and worries careening through his head (not the least of which is a pregnant girlfriend who wants to take a "break"), but nothing can prepare Adam for the day from Hell he's about to withstand. Fresh off his flight and right outside the airport, Adam's cell phone rings: it's someone seriously unfriendly.
Seems that Adam's mother and sister have been kidnapped by some ruthless political extremists -- and Adam must act as the terrorists' puppet or his family will be killed. At first Adam reluctantly gives in to the villains' demands ... but the stakes get raised real high real fast; before too long our hero has some truly impossible choices to make.
Tighly-wound and hyper-cut edited to create a breathless pace, Cavite starts out slowly and slowly spirals into a thing of true grit and intensity. Missing are the flashy touchstones of most American thrillers, and we're entertained by the story as much as we're fascinated by the weathered (and periodically nightmarish) Filipino landscape.
The less divulged about the plot specifics the better, but high praise is due co-directors Ian Gamazon and Neill Dela Llanna for never relying on stock kidnapping-flick conceits. Adam is sent on an increasingly more unpleasant series of tasks ... and you slowly begin to get the feeling that none of this is bound to end particularly well.
Anchored by an excellent lead performance by (co-writer, co-director) Gamazon, Cavite throws your expectations to the wind and just hopes you'll come along for the ride. It's fast-paced and grittily entertaining, but never in that safe and generic way that most Hollywood thrillers shoot for.
Video: The widescreen transfer does a fine job, although you should remember that the film was basically a 2-man job and that fairly basic video equipment was used. I think it fits the film just fine.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English. The Tagalog dialogue comes with English subtitles, although the whole of the film does not. Spanish, but not English.
Filmmakers Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon provide a feature-length audio commentary. The co-directors were recorded separately, but they combine to bring a good deal of background info to the track. And if you're one of those festival-goers who saw Cavite and didn't much care for its portrayal of The Philippines, the directors have a few (polite yet firm) comments for you specifically.
Also included are a ten-minute batch of outtakes & deleted scenes (with optional commentary and a bunch of Magnolia trailers for Bubble, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, A League of Ordinary Gentlemen, The War Within, One Last Thing..., and The World's Fastest Indian.
At 80 minutes in length, Cavite doesn't waste much time getting to the meat of the matter, and much of the film maintains an impressively desperate and fairly breathless pace.
(Portions of this review were reprinted from my SXSW '05 coverage.)