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Watch List

Philippines / USA / Canada 2019
produced by
Ronald Stephen Monteverde, Erik Matti, Brenda Gilbert, Ben Rekhi, Anjay Nagpal (executive), Steven Thibault (executive), Adam Davids (executive), Nick Spicer (executive), Nate Bolotin (executive), Frances Rementilla (executive) for State of Awe, Reality Entertainment, BRON Studios, XYZ Films
directed by Ben Rekhi
starring Alessandra de Rossi, Jake Macapagal, Arthur Acuña, Micko Laurente, Lou Veloso, Angeli Bayani, Jess Mendoza, Timothy Mabalot, Sher Khalifa Floresta, Susan Coronel Malonzo, Manu Respall, Neil John Carandang, Sherwood Kip Conales, Myla Roy-Monido, Bernardo Carritero III, Edmund Santiago, Hermana Concepcion, Jerry Solomon
written by Rona Lean Sales, Ben Rekhi, music by William Ryan Fritch

review by
Mike Haberfelner

The Philippines in the early days of president Duterte's "war on drugs": Equipped with a list of (former) drug users, the police roam the slums to round up all those on the list to put them into a rehabilitation program - a program most join as they think they get off that list that way. Among them are also Maria (Alessandra de Rossi) and Arturo (Jess Mendoza), who have long been clean already, but a list's a list. And yet, a few weeks later, Arturo's shot dead in the street and a sign is attached to him claiming he's a pusher. Maria is devastated, especially since the help from the police is minimal, and eventually she finds out Arturo was gunned down by vigilantes in league with the police. Maria tries to find a job to support herself and her three children, but since she's still on the list of drug users and there's no way to get off it, she runs into locked doors at every turn. So ultimately she offers her services as an informer to the chief of police (Jake Macapagal), and he gladly accepts - after all, as former user she's bound to know the scene. But ultimately Maria's shocked what she's gotten herself into, as basically her job is to identify pushers for her partner, hitman Alvin (Arthur Acuña), to execute them on the spot. Rattled as she is though, the money's good, so she stays with the program. With time, Alvin teaches her to shoot, too, and eventually she makes her first hit.

Meanwhile, Maria's eldest son Mark (Micko Laurente) starts to wonder where his mother is getting all the money from, and as she's gone almost every night, he makes all the wrong assumptions and gets more and more confused in the process - which drives him into the arms of local teen drug pusher Joel (Timothy Mabalot).

Maria is less than sure about her latest victim to be, Peter (Neil John Carandang), who seems to be a much too nice and innocent guy to have anything to do with drugs, and she tells Alvin as much - but he shoots Peter dead anyways ... and the news report on TV the next morning shows Peter was even more innocent than Maria suspected, but when she confronts Alvin with it, he shrugs it off, as for him Peter was just another job, and he knows he and Maria are just used by those higher up under the guise of the war on drugs and are actually just pawns of a corrupt system. Of course, Maria now wants out, but that's easier said than done ...

 

Now above all, this is not an uplifting movie, it really seems to go from bad to worse, and the fact that it's that rooted in reality doesn't make this any less disturbing - so you better don't watch this on a down day. That said, Watch List is actually pretty powerful cinema, especially because it doesn't just paint a dire picture of Duterte's Philippines but packs its social drama in a really exciting thriller that doesn't try to just drive its message home sledgehammer style but dedicates itself to telling a story first, the message being only secondary. And it tells its story well, showing genuine structure and build-up to a harrowing finale, and the film's helped of course by using authentic backdrops that make the story palpable, and a very able ensemble led by a strong central performance by Alessandra de Rossi.

 

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