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‘Watch List’ review: A blunt look at the drug war in the Philippines

A hard watch.

Watch List explores the seedy underbelly of the Philippines and its war on drugs. It is not just about the drug dealers and users, however. It deals with the the broad powers of a brutal police force and the lengths people will go to in order to keeps the families safe. The movie pulls no punches and takes a no holds barred look at what it takes to survive in extreme circumstances.

Maria and Arturo live with their three kids in the slums of the Philippines. One night, Arturo is mysteriously killed. When she is given a chance to be taken off the drug watch list, Maria reluctantly agrees despite the dangers. Watch List will not impress anybody with its originality. The plot will seem like one from dozens of other movies. The story moves along as expected and the characters act – and even say word for word- exactly what many in the audience will expect.

What makes the movie work so well is the human element. Alessandra de Rossi is great as the powerless lead. She is in a constant state of worry for herself and her children. Despite her circumstances, Maria never asks anyone – including the audience – to pity her. There is always a sense of defiance in her actions. It is a refreshing trait that makes the character arc engrossing, even if it is too recognizable.

The most poignant parts of the movie are watching the police force. They will horrify the audience along with instilling anger. Again, Watch List holds nothing back. People are callously tortured and murdered. This frank look at the tactics they use during their war in drugs is unreal. These moments build an atmosphere of fear that permeates the whole movie.

'Watch List' review: A blunt look at the drug war in the Philippines

In examining the Philippines war on drugs, Watch List it looks at deeper themes. The most noticeable is the value of life. Some characters wrestle with what they are doing How much does life mean when it comes to your own family? The story also looks at the generational gap, class division, and even has a coming of age subplot.

Movies dealing with a single mother who has become an avenging angel are nothing new. Watch List does something different by adding heavy emotion to its story. Things can get very uncomfortable at times and it is definitely has a sense of dread throughout. The movie will never surprise its audience, but it is an interesting look at country rarely spoken about.

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