STARRING: Gael García Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Cataño, Marco Pérez, Oscar Flores, David Lorenzo and Butch McCann
A group of people trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States encounter a man who has taken border patrol duties into his own racist hands.
Desierto takes us to the treacherous desert of the United States/Mexican border, where a group of people going on a journey to seek a better life are being hunted in the unforgiving terrain by a deranged, rifle-toting vigilante. The numbers begin to dwindle and the odds begin to stack for the group as they discover there’s nowhere to hide from the unrelenting, merciless killer.
Desierto is a relatively small budget film from Jonás Cuarón, son of Alfonso Cuarón, who penned the script for Gravity and here he is on screenplay and directing duties with this thriller about a group of Mexican immigrants attempting to make their journey through the border to the United States, but are met with ruthless resistance by a psychopath with a rifle who begins hunting them down.
Instantly, Desierto struck me with its gorgeous images from the opening credits to films end, the cinematography work from Damian Garcia is terrific here catching the beauty and harshness of the desert terrain that are group find themselves stuck in, trying to escape the killer and his savagely loyal dog. The score provided by Woodkid is effective, most notably in the chase sequences when the group run for their lives to escape the dog that pursues them throughout the desert. The villainous performance from Jeffrey Dean Morgan is great, he’s a menacing figure and no one can smile evilly as well as Morgan can. Gael García Bernal is also great as Moises, one of the people being hunted by Morgan’s character Sam (if I remember correctly he remains nameless throughout). There is some sequences that were really effective, such as the group attempting to climb higher to escape Sam and his dog, Sam gunning down a half dozen with chilling ease to the most effective use of a flare gun I’ve seen in quite some time.
While the film works well as a thriller, if you come in looking for some deep character development I’m afraid you won’t find it here. We get a brief glimpse of Sam’s mindset of why he’s doing this, having a sense of entitlement to keep the immigrants out, at one point shouting ‘This is my home’. As brief we get into his mindset, it’s never really developed to open up his conscience, much like Bernal’s Moises we get a reason as to why he needs to cross the border but everyone else around him in the group is pretty much one-note characters.
An effective, straight-forward survival thriller from Jonás Cuarón with effective chase sequences, an intense performance from Jeffrey Dean Morgan and some terrific cinematography on show. 6/10