Baby, We’re A-Maze-d!: A Review of Erik Matti’s "BuyBust"
‘Like rats in a water maze that’s closing in on them’. That would be the best way to describe what Direk Erik Matti makes his lead PDEA squad go through in the course of his film BuyBust. And as can be expected, it’s a sink or swim situation; a drug bust scenario that turns into a suicide mission that goes South in more ways than one.
Running for a little over two hours, BuyBust is Erik’s notion of a claustrophobic, violent, bloody, and visceral joyride through hell—hell, in this case, being Tondo’s Gracia ni Maria slum area. That this PDEA squad is led by none other than Anne Curtis guaranteed that Erik would have the public’s attention; as it’s an ingenious piece of casting, making us curious on how Anne would fare in this testosterone-fueled, action-packed film.
For the first quarter of the film, we’re given a rather ponderous setting up of the situation, and a meagre attempt at establishing the members of the PDEA squadron—it’s only Anne as Officer Manigan who really creates a semblance of a personality. While Brandon Vera as a fellow officer will figure prominently as the members of the squad are eliminated, we’re not really given a grip on his character at this point. Fortunately for us, it’s here that we’re introduced to Teban, the stool pigeon and reluctant informant. Played by stand up comedian Alex Calleja, he will be the one saving shaft of humor that punctuates the film throughout, and lifts it from being a ponderous succession of closely cut and angled fight scenes.
If there’s someone who seems to be really enjoying himself throughout the film, it would be Direk Erik—can so easily imagine him gleefully turning the set into his own private playground, blowing up things, establishing corpses here and there, and turning vertigo and claustrophobia into his weapons of choice. You have to love how he’s choreographed the hand to hand combat, and how he’s established the positions of the cameras to capture the action.
And we even get a jolting surprise in the last quarter; as Erik turns this action film into social commentary. Corruption at all levels, from users to dealers, to pushers and big business importers, to the police and higher-ups in government; they’ve all got their fingers in the sticky pot. And what could be more telling than Erik’s choice of closing ‘take’. He pans up from the corpse-strewn Tondo district to the high rise skyscrapers of a gleaming Metro Manila—making the point that this is all very close, and it’s happening today!
Unlike On The Job, BuyBust doesn’t really think in terms of acting vehicle or dense social realism. This is essentially a shoot-em-up that turns cynical in terms of commentary at the very end. Erik is a master at creating atmosphere and setting; but I do wish he had given us more character-building at the outset. And I still believe the time is ripe for Aswang Chronicles 3! Combining horror, comedy and social commentary—don’t the times today call for all three, and just beg for a new Aswang chapter?
Lead images from @buybustmovie