‘Maria’ review: Engrossing actioner
It takes a while for Pedring Lopez’s Maria to find its beat and punch, but once it finally makes full use of its ludicrously lawless reimagining of Manila as stage for its string of stylized action scenes, it becomes relentlessly entertaining, proving that there is much potential for an actioner centering on a slighted housewife with a secret past on a rampage.
Never mind its boilerplate opener which has a shrouded assassins break into a home, beat up brutes, and murder a family.
That teaser of an action sequence, more deflated than daring with most its spectacles wasted as they are draped in shadows, is merely serviceable. While it is underwhelming, it still sets the central mystery behind the titular character (Cristine Reyes) who is one of the masked murderers but is curiously next seen as a doting mother dutifully fetching her young daughter from school so that they can spend the night together with her idealistic husband.
Maria needlessly spends quite a while shaping this world of domestic bliss. In between terse introductions of the film’s slew of sadistic villains, the film crawls with its by-the-numbers portrayal of the not-so-perfect but still euphoric family life of the protagonist. It is almost as if Lopez is attempting for some relevance, setting his tale in the midst of a senatorial election that is riddled with scandals.
It becomes very clear that Maria intends to focus on this not-so-unique but still compelling conceit of having brutality spring out of the most unlikely places, which in its case, is a comely woman whose most urgent concern seems to be her desire to have her husband spend more time with her family.
Thankfully, the film appropriately abandons the sobriety.
As soon as its protagonist gets pushed to shed her home clothes for battle-ready garb, Maria transforms from a tedious character study into a ruthless romp of bullets blasting, bones breaking ,and bodies bleeding.
The action sequences are never chaotic for chaos’ sake. They aren’t jittery or disjointed. They are all astoundingly coherent, with cinematographer Pao Orendain framing and lighting each scene with a distinct eye that focuses on the minute details of movement. The editing is crisp and precise. The music complements the onscreen rampage.
This is clearly where Lopez belongs, where he is in his element.
His action scenes are not just invigorating as they also allow room for the broad emotions that the film grounds its ultraviolence on. There is unlikely elegance in his exorbitant sprees of ferocity and force.
There is surprising depth in Reyes’ performance. Reyes, who has been unfairly relegated as just a sexy siren in her previous outings, is stirring here, making her seemingly impossible struggle to best the men who attempt to control her not just believable but worth rooting for. While the role requires physicality, it is her ability to infuse each punch and kick with a full range of emotionality that is engrossing.
Edge of their seats
Maria’s triumph isn’t in its ambition to evolve its genre by infusing it with currency or relevance.
It is in its meticulous crafting, in its fealty to the tropes of the genre, in its dogged desire to keep its audience on the edge of their seats without need of any ulterior advocacy. – 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.