BuyBust is Ruthless, Anne Curtis is a Badass, and Erik Matti is Back in Action
Brace yourself before you go out to see Erik Matti’s BuyBust, because its brutal beatdowns, shootouts, and sheer shantytown chaos are relentless and purposely painful to watch. The two-hour film spends little time on anything else, taking only a few minutes at the start to set the context: There’s a drug lord to be captured, a batch of new drug enforcement recruits including one Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis-Smith) with a dark past, and a buy-bust operation that doesn’t go as planned. When the squad tries to rectify the failed bust, the story tips off a cliff and descends into pandemonium—a raucous concert of violence with encore after encore after encore, hardly ever letting up until the sobering denouement.
Make no mistake: the action—which in its entirety feels like 90 percent of the movie—is thoroughly entertaining. The fight scenes are well-choreographed, and the shootouts and close-quarter combat sequences are convincing and intense. There are even a few enjoyable moments of absurdity, like one scene that employed an explosive kariton, and another that made creative use of gardening scissors. Audiences with big appetites for action will be satiated thrice over.
First, the audience must stew and simmer in the gore—enjoy it, cringe at it, and endure it—before we can get to the center of the BuyBust Tootsie Pop.
And all that action is even more engrossing because of how stylish BuyBust is. The film is mostly dark, but splashed with color by neon lights. Camerawork is nice and brisk, if a little too shaky at times; and everything looks and feels appropriately claustrophobic to induce the requisite tension. The film’s musical score shines as well, by blending the cacophony of Metro Manila slums with the signature sounds of a Spaghetti Western.
But the look and feel of BuyBust owes so much to its mise en scène: a sprawling and elaborately constructed slum that became the movie's Barangay Gracia ni Maria. The production went into such detail to recreate the grit and squalor of Metro Manila’s poorest areas, and the resulting set is itself a star of the movie—the perfect fray, which situated the action like Castle Black did in Game of Thrones’ “Watchers on The Wall” episode.
The film’s human stars don’t disappoint, either. If there were any doubts that Anne Curtis-Smith could play the badass, consider them overruled. She pulled it off, especially in Nina Manigan’s moments of cutthroat desperation. Brandon Vera as Rico Yatco came through as well, although his character involved less acting and more bludgeoning. The biggest surprise might be Arjo Atayde, whose role was omitted from promotional materials. Short of spoiling anything, it’s enough to say that Atayde gave a believable and memorable performance for a crucial scene.
Because of the way it’s structured, BuyBust may feel messy and incoherent at some points—like it’s trying to say something and move the story forward, before getting lost in the mayhem. But this seems to be by design. In between all the firefights and fisticuffs, there’s little room for the audience to think about the story and the morals and motivations of its characters. There’s little room for a story at all—just the incessant noise of bullets and explosions, deception and injustice, survival and death.
But none of it is for nothing. First, the audience must stew and simmer in the gore—enjoy it, cringe at it, and endure it—before we can get to the center of the BuyBust Tootsie Pop. By tripling down on the violence and holding back on the story until the very end, it’s as if the movie forces the question: what is it all for? Then, after having left you in the dark to suffer with Manigan and Yatco, BuyBust arrives at its answer, and a reflection of reality in the Philippines. So much violence, so much death; all because of the greed and systemic corruption of those at the top.