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Film review: Desierto – Mexican illegals meet a redneck from hell in survival thriller

Political subtext and breathtaking landscapes enhance brutal B-movie from Gravity filmmakers starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dean Morgan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 7:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 10:54am

3.5/5 stars

The sort of film you can imagine US president-elect Donald Trump liking for all the wrong reasons, Desierto is a brutal, relentless and pared-back survival thriller bursting with primal energy.

Set in the badlands of the US-Mexico border, it begins as 14 illegal immigrants in the back of a truck are turned out into the wilderness after the vehicle breaks down. Among them is Gael Garcia Bernal’s Moises, a resourceful young man we later learn has been in America before. Awaiting these illegals is more than just the border patrol.

Tattooed and bearded, Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the redneck from hell. Armed with a rifle and telescopic sight and a vicious Alsatian named Tracker, he is soon picking off these luckless Mexicans one by one. “Welcome to the land of the free,” he yells, after a brutal opening salvo, gunning down half the posse.

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Never mind Trump’s proposed border wall, Sam’s self-appointed one-man vigilante mission would be enough to keep any unwanted visitors out.

Directed by Jonas Cuaron (who previously co-wrote the Oscar-winning Gravity with his director father Alfonso), the script is spare on background details – and much the better for it. We learn next-to-nothing about Sam and only marginally more about Moises, who is given an emotional motive to survive this brutal assault, as Sam continues his pursuit.

Beautifully shot by cinematographer Damian Garcia, with the landscapes frequently dwarfing the protagonists, the result is a ruthless B-movie with a political subtext that can’t be ignored. A thrilling film.

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Desierto opens on January 12

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