Film Review: Maria

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How do you solve a problem like Maria? That is a question that the characters in Gabriel Grieco and Nicanor Loreti’s bonkers sci-fi-horror hybrid Maria had better find an answer to sooner rather than later if they hope to get to the end of the film alive.

Set in the sleazy (and apparently neon) world of the underground pornography industry, Maria follows the filming of world famous pornstar’s (Daria Panchenko) return to action after suffering a near fatal accident. When Maria suffers a seizure and dies mid-coitus, the shady producers decide to sell her remains to the highest bidder, so that they can have their way with the body before it is disposed of.

But when violence erupts on set, the seemingly dead starlet shows that her accident years ago may in fact have given her advantages that even death cannot contend with…

Let’s get this out the way upfront; Maria is a bonkers film that will test the taste limits of some members of the audience. Featuring some wonderfully extreme gore, some not so wonderful necrophilia and performances that bounce up and down the register like… well I’m struggling not to use a tasteless sex analogy so lets just leave that one there.

Which is all to say that while the film is very rough around the edges, it remains enormous fun and is played with its tongue firmly in its cheek.

A woman lit by neon lights it sitting at a vanity table. She is looking up at someone. Still from Maria.

While Daria Panchenko gets to have a lot of the grotty, grimy fun as the unstoppable killing machine that Maria has become, the story belongs firmly to Malena Sanchez’ Alina and Sofia Gala Castiglione’s Mel as a former couple forced back together while working on the lucrative porn shoot. Whilst the specificities of their relationship and break up are never given any real time to be fleshed out, both performers have an eye-catching charisma and lots of chemistry together.

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And with two interesting characters to root for across the film’s bloody and sweaty trail, the audience have a good hook to hold on to as we swing our way through a film that is big, bolshy and proudly grotesque.

Director’s Grieco and Loreti have a lot of fun of in the violent demise of the various horrible bastards who populate the film and shoot with a neat urgency that plays into the chase-like narrative. Every set is lit in neon pinks and blues, giving every scene a cyber-giallo feel that give it an interesting style and feel that really accentuates the weird and wacky tone that pervades the film.

Three men wearing suits and metal demon masks. Still from Maria.

The film isn’t the most coherent; some of the side-plots and characters are disposed of so quickly and without resolution that you do wonder what they are doing there in the first place. Similarly, there is an entire subplot about an undercover cop that feels like it belongs in another film. A pre-credit scene featuring a gritty black and white interrogation feels like an homage to Scorcese’s The Departed and is so wildly different in tone to anything else in the film that you do suffer whiplash when the film jumps to the scantily clad silliness that comes soon after.

The limitations of the film’s fun, gory practical effects are neatly masked by some interesting editing choices and the neon explosion which covers the screen. On such a low budget, it is always great to see that the crew managed to come up with fun and unique solutions to hide some of the film’s limitations.

A woman stands silhouetted in the dark. Still from Maria.

Bringing its story to a close in under ninety minutes, Maria just about manages to get out before it outstays its welcome in a gruesome finale that will leave festival audiences smiling. A post credit scene which leaps into the future to show us an ominous fate coming for the world only confirms the film’s zany tone and reinforces that Maria knows exactly what it’s doing.

Dripping with blood, neon and other unmentionable bodily fluids, Maria feels like a festival favourite in the making.

Maria had its UK Premiere at FrightFest Halloween on 27 October.

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