BuyBust (Erik Matti, 2018)

BuyBust posterErik Matti follows Richard V. Somes We Will not Die Tonight with another retro exploitation action fest starring a plucky female lead which turns darker than anyone could have imagined. BuyBust is, on the surface, a gritty B-movie filled with ultra violence and relentless bloodshed, but it’s also the latest in a long line of movies to examine the ongoing legacy of the “War on Drugs” in Duterte’s increasingly hardline Philippines.

Our heroine, Manigan (played by very deglammed rom-com star Anne Cutis), is the sole survivor of an armed police squad whose comrades were all wiped out during an operation led by police Lieutenant Dela Cruz (Lao Rodriguez). Regarded as bad luck, she’s only recently been able to find a new squad to join but thanks to her experiences, is struggling to find team spirit when she knows out in the field it might be every man for himself. She is dismayed to realise that her first mission will once again be led by Dela Cruz who has picked up a low-level trafficker, Teban (Alex Calleja), in the hope of luring local drug lord Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). When the meet goes South, Teban is summoned to Chen’s lair deep in the Gracia ni Maria slums where all hell breaks loose once the team are spotted and targeted for eradication by Chen’s henchman Chongki (Levi Ignacio).

Though one might assume the police to be the “good guys” – after all, we came here with them, they are in a sense the invaders wading into totally unfamiliar territory where they perhaps have no right to be. The slums are a maze and deliberately so – the confusing environs are a perfect foil for outsiders and the police are indeed quickly lost with no clear idea of how to find their way out. Inhabited by the poorest of the poor, it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that this land and the people within it have been largely left behind, forgotten by the surrounding city which regards this makeshift community as little more than a living graveyard. The police certainly have little sympathy for the ordinary residents whom they regard as tainted by association, thinking of the slums as a land of wilful lawlessness existing in direct opposition to their need for order.

The locals are well and truly fed up with both sides. They don’t have anything to do with drugs but are frequently caught in the crossfire. Creeping into the slums, the police pass a vigil for a little girl killed during a previous incursion in a literal murder of innocence caused by the internecine battle between law enforcement and drug traffickers. When the trouble starts the locals rise up in an act of revolution, wanting an end once and for all to the violence on their streets which has already taken from them sons, husbands, and little children. They are as angry with the police who refuse to protect them as they are with the drug dealers who endanger their lives by refusing to take their illegal trade somewhere less populated.

Manigan and her squad are law enforcement, but they are also a part of the ongoing extra judicial killings and it’s clear their tactics go well beyond self defence. Cornered, a prominent drug dealer taunts Manigan with her own side’s complicity – something of which she is painfully aware in having figured out that her previous squad were almost certainly betrayed by Dela Cruz whose relationships with his targets seem overly incestuous. Drug raids have become an industry in their own right. Not just the bounties on extra judicial killings, but the ransoms and kick backs corrupt officers accept in order to continue facilitating the drug trade. Actually arresting drug dealers would be financially disastrous for them, and so there are huge vested interests in protecting an illicit conspiracy of corrupt police even if it means sacrificing a few foot soldiers for the cause.

Matti keeps the tension high and the action furious as his hand held camera follows the extremely complex choreography through long takes across tin roofs and through narrow passages filled with seemingly endless supplies of angry aggressors. An infinitely compromised figure, Manigan wants to survive and then to expose the corruption in her own organisation but her fight will be a hard one. A gritty, old fashioned exploitation B-movie, BuyBust reserves its sympathy not for the heroine but for the ordinary men and women of the streets whose fight for survival is daily in a world which is becoming ever more hostile to their very existence.


Screened at London East Asia Festival 2018. Currently streaming on Netflix UK (and possibly other territories)

Original trailer (English subtitles)

The Monster Chronicles: Tiktik (Erik Matti, 2012)

Tik tik posterReview of Erik Matti’s Philippine folklore/comic book inspired horror movie The Monster Chronicles: Tiktik (also known as Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles) up at UK Anime Network.


An “aswang” is a supernatural monster from Philippine folklore which is basically a vampire, zombie and were-creature all rolled into one. Appearing just like everyone else in everyday life, the aswangs can disguise themselves as various animals in order to trick unsuspecting people into letting their guard down so they can feast on their hearts and livers. Aswangs are particularly fond of the flesh of unborn babies and will even attempt to sneak into the homes of unsuspecting expectant mothers to suck the child from their very wombs as they lie peacefully asleep.

All of this is very bad news for metropolitan city slicker Makoy who’s managed to trek all the way out to a remote village backwater hoping to win back his heavily pregnant girlfriend who has left him after finally becoming fed up with his total uselessness. However, his efforts seem to have been in vain as Sonia, the possibly ex-girlfriend, doesn’t even want to see him and her domineering mother Feley is dead against this dead beat city boy who’s got her daughter pregnant coming anywhere near her family ever again. Luckily, Sonia’s father, Nestor, is a little more open to the idea of a reconciliation with his grandchild’s father and eventually invites him to stay for Sonia’s birthday celebrations.

At this point Makoy decides to make himself useful by haggling down the price of a pig for roasting at the party, only after managing to pay a whole lot less he ends up with a whole lot more than he bargained for. The local villagers all turn out to be a colony of aswang and now they know about Sonia’s unborn baby it’s not long before all hell breaks out at the prospective parents-in-law of the previously feckless Makoy!

Director Erik Matti (perhaps best known for his urban crime thriller On the Job) opts for a comic book inspired aesthetic by emphasising the artificiality of his studio bound film through noticeably fake CGI backgrounds. Playing out like a Philippine From Dusk Till Dawn, the film has an ironic, pop-culture filled humorous tone and further brings out its comic book trappings through the frequent use of split screens which divide the frame almost like panels do a comic book page. The slightly old fashioned appearance of the split screens coupled with the heightened colour scheme and CGI graphics also add a retro appeal which helps to create the crazy, almost cartoon-like universe in which the film takes place.

However, even if Tiktik has a Saturday morning toon aesthetic, it’s very much an adult affair filled with blood, guts and viscera. An old lady sitting next to Makoy on the cart into town ominously seems to be carrying a large bag of intestines which only seems to foreshadow events to come which will see Makoy wielding a large pitchfork with the guts of an aswang coiled around it like the messiest spaghetti you’ve ever seen.

The aswang might be known for their transforming powers but the real transformation we’re being asked to witness of that of Makoy himself as he plays the classic “stranger in town” role whose arrival is the catalyst for everything going to hell. In the beginning Makoy is an arrogant townie who can’t quite believe the backwardness of this tiny village with no cellphone signal or transport options. He arrogantly assumes he can haggle and barter with the locals by treating them with a superior attitude and the distain of a recent visitor from “civilisation”. This only earns him the additional ire of the aswang who are now, quite literally, out for blood. Sonia may have left him because of his laid back, slacker ways but if he wants to save her and their baby from being devoured by slavering, ugly monsters that no one quite believes in anymore, he’ll finally have to man up.

Makoy manages a little better than Sonia’s father, Nestor – a mild mannered and kind man who loves his fierce wife very much but still can’t quite find the necessary strength within himself to protect his family. If Makoy is to succeed he’ll have to jump into the shoes of a father with both feet, taking charge of a situation which he is not fully equipped to understand.

The film neatly divides itself into two halves with the set-up economically established early on giving way to the aswang assault. Though the action scenes are often exciting and inventive with a fair bit of humour thrown in, Tiktik loses momentum when it switches from the CGI enhanced actors to the completely CGI creatures which are never quite convincing. A genre affair throughout, Tiktik will undoubtedly play better to the Midnight Movie crowd (as it is intended to do) but uninitiated viewers may find themselves tiring of the gore tinged action long before the last aswang is split in twain.


The Monster Chronicles: Tiktik is out now in the UK from Terracotta Distribution following its appearance at the Terracotta Festival in 2014.