Starring: Cristine Reyes, Germaine De Leon, KC Montero
Director: Pedring A. Lopez
Running Time: 89 mins
Maria is a Filipino film about a former cartel assassin who, after escaping the industry, finds herself under pursuit from her former bosses. However, with her skills an determination, she aims to take revenge on those who want to take her new life away from her.
Having just seen Furie yesterday, another South-East Asian martial arts revenge thriller, the flaws and problems with Maria couldn’t be clearer to me. While the film tries to craft a strong and gritty atmosphere to go with its revenge premise, it comes up short with ugly and noisy action, predictable twists and particularly amateurish performances across the board, all coming across as a far cry from what can be done with this genre, as proved by Furie.
Now, I of course know that the Vietnamese and Filipino film industries are in vastly different places, and while Vietnam are making strides as one of Asia’s foremost new filmmakers, the Philippines aren’t quite up to the same level. Unfortunately, that divide really shines through, and despite a good production value that comes with strong funding from Netflix, Maria still comes off as an amateurish production, lacking chronically in what makes an action movie great.
There’s so much that’s wrong with this film, but I’ll start with what frustrated me the most, the fact that Maria is just so devoid of genuine energy or even a modicum of entertainment value. In contrast to Furie, which plays up the ridiculous, fun-loving element of martial arts action, Maria takes a more serious approach, with grit and hard violence at the centre of its action style.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being more serious in that regard, and some of the most intense, riveting action thrillers follow that very line. However, those films also recognise that, alongside a sterner facade, you need a little bit of popcorn entertainment value to keep the viewers interested – particularly if the story is as poor as it is here.
Unfortunately, Maria is so caught up in being serious, with its unnecessarily gruesome violence, painfully loud sound effects and horrible musical score, that it’s just as unpleasant to watch as it is generally dull. It doesn’t have anything like the energy or entertainment value of a great revenge thriller – even a slightly grittier one like Taken – and instead makes for a painfully annoying and noisy watch right the way through.
The only saving grace when it comes to the action is in the form of the fight choreography and cinematography. While it’s not quite on the level of Furie’s exhilarating action, there is some great martial arts action to be seen here, and it’s filmed in a generally engaging and fairly dynamic way, but it’s entirely overshadowed by that horrible musical score and unnecessarily dark and gruesome style of violence.
On top of that, you have a cast that’s entirely devoid of any screen-grabbing talent or zeal, with a combination of amateurish supporting actors and dull leads, all of whom make watching Maria an even duller experience. In the lead role, Cristine Reyes does almost nothing to endear you to her character, even missing the opportunity to use the first act’s focus on her as a loving mother to make a likable, engaging lead character.
As a result, she comes across as nothing more than an indestructible killing robot, and while that same character trope works wonders in sillier action flicks, it’s just tedious when things are more serious. Meanwhile, her enemies are weak and laughably bad at every turn, with the likes of Germaine De Leon and KC Montero failing entirely to bring a degree of menace or even genuine darkness that could help inject some life into the film’s gritty vibes.
Overall, I pretty much hated Maria. A dull, drab and overly serious action thriller, the film fails to use its grittier vibes to any decent effect, with loud, noisy action and excessively gruesome violence totally overshadowing any pure entertainment value in what could be a thoroughly enjoyable martial arts thriller. Complete with amateurish performances across the board and one-dimensional characters, there’s pretty much nothing to grab you about Maria, and that’s why I’m giving it a 4.2.