When I first watched Netflix’s new pitch black action movie Maria, the opening scene in which the titular badass dispatches several armed guards with a smooth-flowing grace, I was excited about this new Filipino action film. At the conclusion of the scene, the American action-movie trope of the moralistic assassin is subverted, and Maria (Christine Reyes) murders a mother and her pre-adolescent daughter in cold blood. I feel a twinge of shame and self-recrimination, even now, typing that I found this introduction exciting, a smile slid across my face. Unfortunately, this early note of enlivening surprise, though it did truthfully portend the ensuing grimness of this film, did not fully presage the paint-by-numbers revenge story Maria would turn out to be.
To start out with, despite any of the complaints I ended up having with the movie as a whole, first time (as far as I could find) director Pedring A. Lopez covers his film in a layer of polish nearly a meter thick. This polish, which shows itself in the production design and above-average fight choreography, was enough to keep an action-addict like me entertained for its scant 89-minute runtime. I was entertained, on occasion, sitting through Maria, but the lazy scripting and plotting were only two of the elements preventing me from recommending this movie.
Maria has far too much pointless torture. I was immediately turned off by the substantive number of scenes in which some of the movie’s villains torment nameless victims by pulling off their fingernails or shoving a cattle prod up their ass. These and other outlandishly lengthy depictions of sadism fit the dour tone of the piece as a whole, but without fleshed out characters, the film becomes an exercise in perseverance on the part of the viewer.
The cliches drip from every pore of this movie, from the bad guys holding guns to each others faces to the female assassin who finishes arming herself by pausing and saying, in a muted and serious tone, “I need a dress.” That said, cliches and well-worn action-movie tropes can be entertaining, and the shine that sparkles on this production indicates that these filmmakers have a future in pulp cinema. Depressingly, the unchanging darkness of the film, along with the slipshod craftsmanship in both its scriptwriting and its performances couple to make Maria a trial to finish.
Director: Pedring A. Lopez
Writers: Pedring A. Lopez, Yz Carbonell, Rex Lopez
Actors: Christine Reyes, Germaine De Leon, KC Montero
Currently streaming on Netflix