When it comes to horror films, there is no guaranteed, paint by numbers formula for success. In fact, it often seems that whenever one concept works for a specific film, others repeat that same pattern with varying outcomes until eventually, it no longer works. It’s fair to say however, that within the genre of horror, the productions that often find the most success are those that manipulate basic concepts such as isolation or helplessness to the point of terror.
Most recently we’ve seen such techniques utilized in films like The Shallows and Don’t Breathe – both of which made admirable box office runs this past summer. Stripping down a horror film to its barest essentials can amplify the intensity, but in order for that to work, the crux of the issue at stake should be a basic one. With the idea of immigration such a hot button topic as of late, it’s hardly surprising that the struggle to find a better life is the latest target of horror filmmaking.
Writer/director Jonás Cuarón – son of Oscar winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron and co-writer of 2013’s Gravity – is getting set for a wide release of his film Desierto. The film tells the story of a group of migrants lead by Gael García Bernal on the US/Mexico border, trying to make their way to what they hope will be a better life. Unfortunately for them, a crazed American vigilante with a sniper rifle - played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead) - doesn’t like newcomers. The end results appear to be a taut, twisted thriller that you can check out in the above trailer.
There hasn’t been a whole lot of critical acclaim for Desierto since it took home the International Critics Award at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, but with its stripped down and stark aesthetic, the film – which was reportedly made for a modest $3 million budget – has received good word of mouth thus far. Cuarón has previously been quoted on his desire to make a film that kept audiences on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. Judging by the online accounts that pay tribute to the film’s tense contradiction of creating a claustrophobic nightmare out of an entire desert, he’s succeeded at that pursuit.
With the issue of immigration being what it currently is, Cuarón’s film has the opportunity to humanize the plight of those who seek refuge in places beyond their own borders. As a Mexican immigrant himself, it will be interesting to see whether or not Cuarón’s empathy can illustrate the terror of a world that has all too often become hostile to the idea of newcomers, rather than simply utilizing the concept of racism and xenophobia as a gimmick to sell tickets.
Desierto’s certainly not the first film to place its cast in a basic setting with limited resources while being threatened with death. Past efforts of this trope have seen success, but very few have done so with a sociopolitical issue as divisive and volatile as that of immigration. Cuarón’s proved with Gravity that he has the creative sensibilities to help bring something truly special to life on the big screen – only this time however, he’s on his own in chasing that pursuit.
Desierto hits U.S. theaters on October 14th, 2016.
Source: STX Entertainment