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By Mark Bell | December 26, 2013

This review was originally published on December 26, 2013 and referenced the original title of La Guapa; Review has been edited to reflect the title change…

Criminal Cesar (Anthony L. Fernandez) has been keeping his ex-wife Alex (Grace Serrano) from seeing their daughter, Celia (Maia Kahlo), until Alex pays off a debt he feels she owes him. To pay this debt, Alex has become an underworld assassin for Cesar, carrying out hits with the help of Cesar’s brother, Benny (Rodney Thurman). Unfortunately for all involved, however, their latest hit has caught the attention of Detectives Pensiero (Al Coronel) and Vasquez (Ivan Basso), and they’re closing in.

Kenneth Castillo‘s La Guapa – Thou Shalt Not Kill is a collection of family dramas and tragedies hidden in a criminal drama wrapping. In the obvious ways, the films focuses on the families of the main characters; in the grander sense, it’s about a community and the interpersonal relationships that form a larger family, with its own brand of dysfunction.

From the forced estrangement of Alex from her daughter Celia by Cesar, to the fractured relationship between Detective Vasquez and his brother Chato (Giovanni Bejarano), the attempts at building a family for Detective Pensiero and his wife (Cindy Vela), and the loyalty gone awry relationship between Cesar and his brother Benny, the film is packed with layers of familial drama. On top of that, Alex’s hits aren’t happening in a vacuum. As owner of a salon, she knows, or is somehow connected to, her victims, their friends and family, and even her pursuers. Everyone both knows and doesn’t know that something is horribly wrong.

The result here is a film that maintains the tenuous relationships between all these narrative threads without any of them coming up short, or letting down the story as a whole. Sure, some developments may not work for everyone (the resolution was a little too neat and tidy for my liking), but all the connections and dynamics are sound. And even if the family aspects aren’t to your liking, there’s still the mystery of where this criminal tale is going. The film intrigues all over the place.

Technically, all aspects are equally solid. Composition is sound, though not particularly interesting; the film doesn’t go for any stylistic flair, but the visual choices still deliver a more than competent image. This isn’t a film that needs to dazzle the eye to impress anyway; the narrative dynamics more than carry their own weight, and the edit moves at the perfect pace.

Some of the dialogue comes across stilted, and every once and a while the film trips over some melodrama, but for the most part the film succeeds. Perhaps it could’ve gone with fewer subplots for the characters involved, but I don’t think any of them dilute the film’s impact. With fewer subplots, the film just might’ve been able to run in a few other directions that weren’t as predictable, given the extra time to focus elsewhere.

Overall, though, I found La Guapa – Thou Shalt Not Kill both entertaining and compelling. The dramatic family aspects allowed the film to be imbued with more than just criminal stereotypes and action, which at best would’ve left the film feeling like a cable TV crime drama. Instead we’re given a convincingly well-rounded film, one that treats the viewer with emotional depth over gunshots (though it has those too).

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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