A pulpy action-thriller that packs a serious punch—and cringe to match.
March 27, 2019
Pedring Lopez’s Maria is goofy. That bit of parti pris is absolutely necessary if you’re to come out of it without a foul taste in your mouth. There’s an exorbitant amount of mindless gore, violence, and vulgarity—things I have come to expect from a Pedring Lopez movie. Like in 2015’s Nilalang, these feel like courteous provisions for the plunge that the movie demands you take. It’s a long way down that plunge, but there’s a lot going on to keep yourself amused. At one point, a character teases, moments before his demise: “For a dead person, you look HAAAT!” I laughed the hardest I’ve ever laughed inside the cinema. Maria is goofy.
The difference, of course, is that I laughed not because it was funny. I laughed because it was laughable. In fact, so is the whole movie. It’s riddled with cringe-inducing moments that have you roll your eyes feeling anything in the realm between exasperation and amusement. Be it the film’s campy dialogue, poor writing or completely bonker moments (think torture scenes in which people are penetrated with soldering irons), the film unfurls in equal parts catharsis and confusion. But here’s the thing: after a few rounds of repetitive eye-rolling, the sight of the inside of your skull is bound to lose its novelty.
The seemingly unintentional punchlines come from the main baddies, a bloodline of mafia men who are obvious distortions of characters from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. They’re all grossly inept at, erm, mafia stuff, especially Kaleb (Germaine De Leon), a whiny, foul-mouthed pretty boy who, morbidly lovestruck by his former flame and co-assassin Lily (Cristine Reyes), orders for a ludicrous manhunt for the woman who had the nerve to betray his trust.
That circles us back to the beginning of the movie. Seven years have passed after Lily has resigned from her career as a cartel assassin to lead a more domestic life. She now goes by the name Maria, a loving wife to a politically unperturbed businessman (Guji Lorenzana). Together they raise a little girl named Min-Min. When Kaleb spots Lily while scouting for a politically motivated order-to-kill against a budding governor, he chases her down and—get this—guns down Lily’s family, including Min-Min.
And so begins a ridiculous revenge plot upended by a ridiculous standoff with a ridiculously pathetic villain. It can be fun to watch in the same way that films like Peppermint and half of Dwayne Johnson’s movies are harmlessly entertaining. What sells it, however, is Cristine Reyes’ straight-faced portrayal of the titular Maria. She brings more beyond the physicality that the role requires of her: gaunt, tireless, and unflinching, her face is stunned to an expression of unwavering fury. Think Matilda Lutz in Revenge, but with the inhumanity of Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler.
Unlike those films, Maria is piped full of action and impressive fighting choreography. That says a lot, considering how awkwardly filmed and spliced the movie is. The number of questionable cuts and incorrectly lensed moments catches up to the punches Lily doesn’t pull. Michael Idioma’s hyper-macho, synth-laden scoring sounds like it came straight out of John Carpenter’s sheets, and it provides a certain groove that mitigates the film’s technical misses.
Though they don’t make a great action movie—at least not exactly—there’s plenty of valuable scraps in Maria that altogether sum up to an experience that is maybe worth your admission. It’s also worth mentioning that Pedring Lopez is among the few Filipino genre filmmakers who insist on sticking to his literal and figurative guns. And as a big genre fan, the last thing I want is to discourage messy but ultimately inspired outputs like Maria.
The final moments of the movie hint at a continuation, with Freddie Webb and KC Montero’s characters vowing to bounce the vengeance back at Lily. I’m unironically down, especially if that means Ronnie Lazaro’s retired master sniper is going to laugh with us at the movie for even longer.