Anne Curtis knows how to reinvent herself—a special quality that has kept her relevant in a fluid industry that swallows and spits out those who aren’t fit for survival. And in director Erik Matti’s ultra-violent and hyper-kinetic action flick BuyBust, she’s elevated her game once again, stepping into the role of a modern-day warrior woman, literally proving her imperviousness by killing her way out of a very messy situation.
Curtis plays rookie PDEA member Nina Manigan, a stubborn and troubled officer recovering from a botched operation with her former team. Her new squad, led by Captain Bernie Lacson (the always convincing Victor Neri), is tasked to conduct a buy-bust operation in the slums of Tondo to smoke out bigtime drug dealer Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde in a winning performance reminiscent of Gary Oldman’s Drexl in True Romance). A police asset in the form of the slimy yet hilarious Teban (Alex Calleja in a great turn) points them to Barangay Gracia ni Maria, a shantytown where Chen and his men operate illegal shabu labs. When a rat gives their plan up, the squad is exposed, forced to fight their way out of the labyrinthine alleys of the criminally infested hellhole.
The notorious auteur fashions a convincing underworld with Barangay Gracia ni Maria—a menacing neighborhood that not only functions as a setting, but as a villainous character in itself. It’s muddy. It’s constantly raining. It’s dark and dangerous and it lets you know it. The sounds of arguing lovers are only muffled by that of karaoke tunes and cheesy techno. With its cheap neon lights, rickety rooves, and claustrophobic pathways, it’s a prison within an oppressed city, where the residents are as relentless as zombies, tired of their poverty and grief and being caught between the crossfire of politics.
"It’s only when you catch yourself cheering for the macabre flash mob before you that you’ll suddenly realize the genius behind this particular piece of filmmaking and feel a nuanced message folded in between the genre’s conventions: violence has become so normalized in our reality that in order for art to elicit a reaction, the volume on the brutality needs to be turned up"
The action present in Matti’s latest endeavor, which is clearly the centerpiece of this production, is nothing short of impressive. This is, first and foremost, an action film, and it isn’t afraid to announce itself as one. There are fists and bullets and knives. There are throws and kicks and multiple stab wounds. The blood overflows and the body count rises to an inglorious crescendo. But there is art in the execution, and there is fun in the delivery. So much so that when a head is severed from its body by some gardening shears, you’ll probably be roaring in applause right after. It’s only when you catch yourself cheering for the macabre flash mob before you that you’ll suddenly realize the genius behind this particular piece of filmmaking and feel a nuanced message folded in between the genre’s conventions: violence has become so normalized in our reality that in order for art to elicit a reaction, the volume on the brutality needs to be turned up.
One special scene has Manigan evading her pursuers by shuffling through doorways and open homes, all captured in one long take, a technical feat that connects both visually and emotionally. Witnessing Manigan and her team pummel through the night is emotionally exhausting—you can actually feel the work and sweat and physicality put into getting just the right shot.
MMA fighter Brandon Vera, who plays the not-so-gentle giant Rico Yatco, has indubitable chemistry with Curtis—the camaraderie is potent even when they are barely speaking, kicking ass side by side in an effort to watch each other's back. Matti, who peppers his cast with unforgettable personalities, doesn’t need to delve deep into the backstories of his key players—without expounding on too much, we know this squad is made up of husbands, mothers, mentors, and maybe even some newfound friends.
Manigan’s character in particular is at first only painted in broad strokes, a writing technique that works because her narrative is defined by her movements—not by her history or words or shortcomings as a professional law enforcer. Curtis’ performance seems to be inspired by the likes of Alien’s Ripley and Terminator’s Sarah Connor, powerful but still complex heroines who get the job done through stamina, willpower, and a shit-load of weaponry. Here, Curtis conveys catharsis not through tears or witty one-liners, but through roundhouse kicks and headbutts, through shutting an opponent down with tactical grace and a feverish frenzy. And when she emerges come daybreak, bruised and beaten an unwilling to surrender, you’re right there with her, wishing she lives to fight another day.
Catch BuyBust when it hits theaters on August 1