Showdown in the Desert: ‘Desierto’ lets your blood freeze

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Fabian Brims, Staff Writer

An enraged hunter and his dog hunt down a group of illegal immigrants from Mexico at the American border, just like if they were animals. Luckily the movie turns out to be not as crude, but rather a suspenseful movie that makes the 94 minutes go by in a blink.

Moises (Gael Garcia Bernal) is on the way to the United States to reunite with his little son. Because he is Mexican and was already deported once before from this country, he has to ride with a group of illegals in an old transporter to cross the border somewhere in the desert. Meanwhile a lonely hunter named Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his faithful and well-trained dog Tracker drive around in the borderland, shooting rabbits. When the Mexicans’ transporter breaks down and they continue their journey by foot, they run directly into Sam, who without hesitation, attacks the group and kills everyone he sees. However, a small part of the group, including Moises, fell behind and they narrowly escape just to witness the bloodbath from a distance. Tracker picks up their scent soon, and from that moment on they are on the run from the man with the rifle and his merciless dog. Even though they are in the defense and helpless, they don’t want to give up easily.

‘Desierto’ is written and directed by Jońas Cuaron, who also wrote the screenplay for his father’s Oscar-winning movie ‘Gravity’ in 2013. It was already filmed last year but only now found its way to the American cinemas, just in time for Election Day. Luckily it did, because this little, grimy movie is both suspenseful and very entertaining.

The two leading actors do a great job, because their roles are rather emotional. Since the dialogue is limited, the acting is rather based on gestures and expressions. Anger, desperation and fear are all emotions many people in America can relate to these days, that makes this film very relatable for the audience.

Jońas Cuaron also does an excellent job directing his actors and continually raising the level of suspense. After a short introduction it doesn’t take long until Sam ambushes the defenseless immigrants, and from there on the viewer is on the run with Moises and the other survivors as the death toll goes up.

What keeps the viewer into it is the excellent acting; you immediately care about the victims and relate to them. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a natural presence and doesn’t need to talk a lot to deliver his message, which he proves right now as Negan in ‘The Walking Dead’. I also liked that his character stays mysterious. Whether he is a violent racist, a traumatized veteran, or something completely different, we don’t know. Cuaron specifically doesn’t answer this and that makes the character more obscure and terrifying.

On the technical side this movie is wonderfully filmed, with many wide shots showing the raw nature of the borderland. These panoramas and moments of silence interchange with high pace pursuits filmed with a handheld camera, which draws you right into the scene.

‘Desierto’ is more than just a genre film, which is why Mexico turned it into the Oscar race for best foreign language film (Sam is the only English-speaker, the rest is in Spanish). This thriller also shines light on the immigration issue and what situation refugees and border patrol are confronted with in this day and age. The coming years will tell if just a wall can fix this, or if it needs something completely different.

Desierto (2015); written & directed by Jońas Cuaron; with Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo; 94 min; rated R

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