As a Filipino-American, it’s embarrassing that I’ve only seen a couple of films that are about the Philippines. As soon as I received an email promoting Watch List, a thriller set in Manila, I was all on board. Directed by Ben Rekhi and featuring a heartbreakingly real performances from Alessandra de Rossi, Watch List absolutely delivers.
Maria (Alessanda de Rossi) and her husband Arturo have been put under a “watch list” in Manila. The pair were former drug users and with drug enforcement at an all-time high in the Philippines, both of them can’t escape their past. When Arturo is murdered in cold blood in what may have been a set up, Maria is determined to find out who killed her husband.
With three children to raise in an impoverished neighborhood, Maria is fighting seemingly insurmountable odds to find justice as well as give her kids a better life. Once she teams up with a morally dubious cop named Ventura (Jake Macapagal), her life takes a drastic turn. Although she now has money to buy food and provisions for her kids, Maria is assigned to help Alvin (Arthur Acuña), a ruthless gun-for-hire, rid the streets of drug pushers and criminals.
On the surface, Watch List feels like a straight ahead revenge thriller that you probably have seen countless of times. Screenwriters Rona Lean Sales and Rekhi provide a refreshingly bracing approach to the material. Don’t expect any feel good Hollywood ending with Watch List, as the narrative’s visceral approach is to accurately portray the drug war’s toll on the people the police allegedly want to protect.
That said, Watch List is not a one-sided social documentary, and Rekhi’s fluid use of the camera as it winds its way through the inner corners of Manila is eye catching. Maria’s pointed conversations with Alvin, a man who has lost his compass, also helps viewers see two sides of the story sans any level of preachiness.
I went in to Watch List hoping for a solid enough viewing experience. Thanks to an unforgettable third act and a haunting final shot, this movie proved to be a step above a standard action thriller. Alessandra de Rossi also gives a performances for the books, as she accurately portrays a woman who is understandably suffocated by tragedy and corruption.
Watch List is a hard movie to shake off, but one assumes that was director Ben Rekhi’s intent. President Rodrigo Duterte’swar on drugshas received its share of worldwide criticism, so making Watch List an escapist adventure would have been an insult.
If you’re looking for a hard hitting thriller that isn’t afraid to tackle a controversial subject, keep your eye on Watch List. Better yet, just watch the movie and get back to me.
Watch List is now playing in Virtual Theaters and it hits On Demand September 1.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Tickets now available for WATCH LIST -screening virtually via Laemmle Theatres!