‘Watch List’ review: A must-see
After the murder of her husband by vigilante killers targeting drug peddlers, Maria (Alessandra de Rossi) is left on her own to both provide for her three children and keep them safe from the constant raids and rub-outs in the slums they live in.
Desperate, she decides to align herself with Ventura (Jake Macapagal), a cop of dubious motives, who assigns her as a partner of Alvin (Art Acuna) in his many missions to eliminate suspected pushers.
Rarely feels like propaganda
Ben Rekhi’s Watch List is grounded on a cliché that one can only hope becomes obsolete.
However, films that tackle drugs and extra-judicial killings are still churned out, either to reinforce the twisted logic behind the blatantly atrocious government initiative in the case of films like Carlo J. Caparas’ Kamandag ng Droga (2017) and Njel de Mesa’s KontrAdiksyon, or to valiantly put a spotlight on its obvious and disconcerting amorality like what Treb Monteras’ Respeto have done. The proliferation of films that tackle the drug war is a confounding phenomenon, with near-empty cinemas turned into battlegrounds by filmmakers to impassionedly espouse their opposing advocacies.
That said, Rekhi’s film seems nothing new.
Its plot twists and character turns are far from surprising. What sets it apart, however, is its unflinching grip on the humanity of its characters, and not on the stubborn tropes of its unfortunate genre.
Watch List rarely feels like propaganda, even though many of its passages are as blunt as a sledgehammer in echoing the injustices from corrupted powers. It is first and foremost a compelling drama that is carved out of the misfortunes of a mother struggling to survive in a society that oppresses her kind with intimidation, violence, and death.
The film draws you into its suffocating and bleak world that seems bereft of second chances by humanizing the plight of its most immediate victims.
De Rossi is magnificent here.
The easiest thing to do for De Rossi here is to portray her character as a hapless victim, as a perpetually tired woman who has been left to fend for herself by a policy that by its very nature, shows the monstrosities of an unmitigated patriarchy. That would have suited the film’s goal of criticizing the ills of society. However, De Rossi exudes a mannered defiance, a me-against-the-world stance that makes the inevitability of her grim fate all the more heartbreaking.
Watch List is bold and brave.
It knows it treads very familiar grounds. It also knows that its goal is not novel, and that its place in the world is simply to reverberate the opposition to the reckless killings from the "drug war." Despite that, its focused attention on the agonizing tragedy of a mother cornered by her station in life adds heart and soul to the controversy, furthering the argument that there is absolutely no rhyme or reason for the devaluing of life.
The final frame of Watch List, of a boy who was set free and given a second lease at life, is harrowing.
What would normally symbolize hope is stripped of anything positive. The overwhelming emotion echoed by the frame is despair and trauma. Watch List boldly documents the far-reaching consequences of the normalized violence and brutality brought about by the drug war. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.