<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Jonás Cuarón. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Catano, Marco Perez
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Congratulations on your new president America. It is true, we get what we deserve and the real Americans have spoken. It won’t be long before we see radical white men taking snipers and positioning themselves on the wall President Trump had promised to build on the Mexico-US border. If indeed he does actually build it.
Jonás Cuarón is the son of award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón who he collaborated with on Gravity. Perhaps they thought of this idea after Trump’s speeches on deporting illegal immigrants and building that wall. But instead of a wall, Desierto gives us a rifle slinging, probably ex-army man, clearly grappling with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is on a mission to defend his country from illegal Mexicans trying to sneak through weak border security. In his big truck with his German Shephard dog Tracker, he stealthily tracks them down and takes them out with sniper-like accuracy (well except for Bernal who has to survive till the end).
Moises (Gael Garcia Bernal) and a small group of other Mexicans who fall behind, survive the onslaught for a while and then there’s only him and a Mexican girl left. The tension stays ramped up throughout the film; it’s a chase film but without the cars. White rock faces, cactus-strewn stretches of desert and red boulders are the game board for this horrific story. If it isn’t Sam who is doing the killing then it’s his trusty dog Tracker who impales the Mexicans with ninja-like precision.
Oh and did I mention that the film is mostly in Spanish with English subtitles? Most of the English is spoken by Sam who talks to himself and says things like, “Welcome to the land of the free” after blowing out the brains of 10 Mexicans. The US border patrol is seen as being lax and incompetent. I guess that’s why he feels the need t defend his country. But there is something else that lurks behind his aggression. We never get to find out but you get the feeling that he’s been the victim of something horrible. Doesn’t excuse his behaviour though.
President Trump will certainly enjoy the movie, as will you. It’s taught and riveting with some heart-pounding chase scenes and very little dialogue. The humanity of these illegal immigrants comes through in the short explanations that Moises and the other survivor give about their reasons for wanting to go to the US. They soon realise that they’re simply crawling from one bad situation to another with perhaps just a few more perks.
Desierto is the perfect quick watch thriller if you don’t mind reading subtitles. But even without them, you’d be pretty scared watching the horror of humanity unfold before you.