BuyBust, Erik Matti’s new film, may be about the horrors of the drug war, but it is crafted with an almost-festive sense of theatricality. There is no other way by which this story, about a tough-as-nails squad of law enforcers fighting their way out of a botched operation, could have derived entertainment from familiar and dark realities.
The tropes begin with the contrast between the two main protagonists. Anne Curtis, popular romantic leading lady, plays Nina Manigan, the hardened latest member of the squad, who joins them coming from a traumatic experience—she is the lone survivor of a previous operation also gone terribly wrong. The guilt haunts her, and it shows in her rogue tendencies. She is paired with Rico Yatco, played by mixed martial artist Brandon Vera, the big, bad brawler with a gentle heart, who likes telling Nina that his bottle-cap lucky charm is the key to their salvation.
Nina and Rico, with their tactical commander Bernie Lacson (Victor Neri) and an assortment of bearded and braided teammates, are sent on a buy-bust mission to capture a drug lord ostentatiously nicknamed Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). The operation that sends them to the dark heart of Manila’s slums becomes a literal trap, as the angry locals turn against them, blocking their way out of the colorful but hellish and maze-like settlement. This is more than the typical Hollywood action flick that pits cops against drug cartels in favelas; as Matti himself describes it, BuyBust is ‘a zombie movie without zombies’. The operatives try to make their way to safety by shooting, stabbing, and smashing their way through wave upon wave of bloodthirsty bodies.