The worst student films tend to come from people who were weaned on Hollywood entertainment and who try to apply the same slick, high-concept aesthetic to projects that cost about as much as last month's rent. The only rational explanation for how an abysmal no-budget film like Cavite could get released theatrically is that its makers, co-writer/directors Ian Gamazon and Neill Dela Llana, have come up with a from-the-headlines hook too big to deny. Fusing the conventions of a Hollywood thriller like Ransom or Phone Booth to the provocative issue of Islamic terrorism in the Far East, the film follows a Filipino-American security guard whose mother and sister are abducted by an Abu Sayyaf bandit in Manila. Gamazon and Dela Llana have come up with a guerrilla-style concept for shooting the movie on location overseas: Cast Gamazon in the lead role and have the rest of the dialogue come from the kidnapper's disembodied voice on his cell phone. It might have worked, too, if Gamazon had taken an acting class, or if the kidnapper didn't sound like a villainous GPS navigating device.
Leaving behind a spiritually empty existence in San Diego, where he logs time as a night watchman at a parking lot and scraps with his bitchy girlfriend, Gamazon flies to the Philippines to reconnect with his roots. After his mother and sister fail to meet him at the airport, Gamazon picks up a ringing cell phone planted in his luggage and gets instructions from the man who has abducted them. At first, the kidnapper demands a cash exchange, directing this wayward tourist around Manila and the outlying city of Cavite, but it later becomes clear that he expects Gamazon to do his ideological bidding.
Amazingly, the issue of religious province and retribution barely gets a whisper until Gamazon faces a grim ultimatum in the third act. Until then, it's just a forced walking tour of the Manila slums, hosted by a belligerent offscreen tour guide who mostly gives directions when he's not questioning Gamazon's manhood. Those views of squatter homes and waterways clogged with rotting trash are the film's sole redeeming element, perhaps because the horrifying backdrop of a third-world country operates without direction from Gamazon and Dela Llana. Everything under their domain feels completely false.