Maria Ramon (Alessandra De Rossi) used to suffer the life of a drug addict in Manila, but with the support of her husband she has managed to pull them both out of that mire and contrive to get by in the Philippines' capital, bringing up their three young children in the process. However, one day there is a knock on the door and when they open it, two cops are standing there claiming to have their names on an arrest warrant - the dreaded watch list that enables and permits the police to round up anyone they regard as undesirable thanks to their drugs problem. The couple try to protest that they no longer use, but their pleading falls on deaf ears and they are carted away to the station, little knowing the Hell to come...
Director and co-writer Ben Rekhis feature Watch List began with news footage of the current President, Rodrigo Duterte, ordering all drug dealers to be executed to clean up the streets of The Philippines, then hot on the heels of that we hear him denying the Holocaust, which functions as a neat snapshot of his outlook and presidency. While some in that nation accuse him of being a tyrant leading a corrupt regime that labels anyone unpopular with them or political rivals as drug dealers all the better to have great swathes of the population murdered to keep the authorities in power, there are plenty there who fully support Duterte and his hardline stance against crime. It will come as no surprise that Rekhi fell into the camp who were critical of the government.
Indeed, local cinema for this part of the world tended to be either heavily pro or anti-Duterte, leaving the populace to make up their minds should they wish to use a movie to do so, and for the anti lot, Watch List was considered one of the best in their arsenal of illustrating what life had actually been reduced to in the cities. It was certainly accurate to observe that this was a cracking little thriller as it stood, but did it convey its social message with the same style, was probably the most important question to ask. Although it did so with no shortage of melodrama, especially in its latter stages, you had to admit that overall this was a highly effective slice of Third World cinema that set out its goals and targets with admirable clarity, then went on to serve up a drama that was intended to tug on the heartstrings.
Fair enough, not everyone likes their thrillers to do this, but Rekhi had a sure hand on his material that had you believing no matter how over the top and convenient the plotting verged on, there was enough integrity in both De Rossi's performance, which no matter your politics would only fairly be judged as excellent, and the way it put across its points that you could not deny there was a serious problem in zero tolerance policing and lawmaking. That was because, as we witnessed here even in fictional form, it was so vulnerable to abuse: all someone corrupt enough had to do to eliminate someone they disliked was to lie, basically, that they were a drug user or criminal, and soon enough that person would find life extremely difficult for them. The watch list is an excuse to do this, filling a quota too, which Maria is caught up in to an extent that she winds up committing acts that are horrendous because she has been forced into a corner and must protect her children - the authorities in charge have no qualms about executing anyone, should they get in their way or prove useful to threaten. Not a cheery film, but gripping in its urgency. Music by William Ryan Fritch.