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Review: BUYBUST (2018) – Fantasia Film Festival 2018

Beginning with the brutal interrogation of a suspect, BUYBUST, the new film by Erik Matti (ON THE JOB, THE ENTITY) is an action thriller set against the violent war against drugs in the Philippines. Starting out as a straightforward action film, it eventually mixes in some potent commentary on President Duterte’s policies that should be controversial when it opens in its home country. I saw it ahead of that as part of the 2018 Fantasia Film Festival.

Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis, AURORA) is the sole survivor of an elite police unit wiped out in a bust gone wrong. She’s no sooner assigned to a new unit than it’s sent on a mission to capture kingpin Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). Being led to Chen by Teban (Alex Calleja) who we saw interrogated in the opening scenes, things quickly go wrong.

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Trapped in a hellish slum, the team finds themselves fighting for their lives as both gang members and the local residents attack them. They not only need to escape, but to find out who set them up.

BUYBUST features an insane amount of well-staged battles. The slum’s maze of streets seems to spew an unending supply of attackers. Forcing the squad’s rapidly dwindling members to increasingly desperate means of self-defence. There’s a scene with a pair of hedge clippers that ranks as their best use on-screen since THE BURNING.

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Matti is a seasoned director of action films and it shows here. He stages the night’s events in torrential rain, punctuated with deafening thunder. He’s given great support from his leads. As was the case with another recent Filipino film, WE WILL NOT DIE TONIGHT, the female lead is played by an actress best known for romantic comedies. And, like Erich Gonzales in that film, Anne Curtis convincingly makes the transition here. As the giant Rico, MMA vet Brandon Vera puts on an incredible display of hand-to-hand fighting. It’s surprising he hasn’t been cast in more films with his size and moves.

Primarily a balls-out action film, BUYBUST does have a message. One about the effects of the brutality and corruption of the country’s current government on its poorest residents. Matti has referred to Duarte and his supporters as “motherfuckers” on social media. He manages to make his points without demonizing the slum dwellers, (they’re angered over the constant deaths in raids). Or the squad who are suffering wrath better directed at other units. This all plays into the wild three-way battle that sets up the film’s final confrontation.

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At a hair over two hours, BUYBUST really doesn’t feel long. It’s a fast-paced, hard-edged action film with a point to make. And it makes it well, right down to the final shot.

Well Go USA will release BUYBUST in select North American cities from Aug. 10 with home video release to follow.

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