STORY : A group of Mexicans cross over the border to the US illegally, but run into a psychotic killer, who doesn’t want immigrants to step foot in his country.
REVIEW : Desierto was released in the US way back in 2015 (it was Mexico’s entry to the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language Film category), but its Indian release could not have come at a more appropriate time. Using the worn-out premise of a lone killer and his hapless victims who have to fight for survival, Jonás Cuarón, the son of Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuarón, gives us a tense thriller that throbs with topical urgency following Donald Trump’s victory in the recent US elections.
The film’s antagonist (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the kind of person who would have cheered at Trump’s electoral plank of building a wall along the border of Mexico to stop immigrants from taking over the jobs of Americans. “It is my home,” he says to himself in the initial few minutes after shooting dead over a dozen hapless Mexicans who have crossed over the border, armed only with the hope of finding a better future in the ‘Land of the free’. But a handful manage to escape. Does anyone among these survive or do they all fall victim to their hunter’s cruel game?
Cuarón just gives us snippets of information and hardly any insights into any of these characters: one of these immigrants (Gael García Bernal) is a man trying to get back to his little son in the US, while another is a young woman (Alondra Hidalgo) whose parents had forced her to leave her home town because they felt it was too dangerous for her! And we never know why the hunter exhibits such extreme hatred.
This minimalist approach is both the film’s strength and weakness. Given that it wants to be a political commentary, we wish the film had dug deeper, but taken simply as a thriller, Cuarón has provided us with a visually impressive film (cinematographer Damian Garcia’s wide frames superbly capture the vastness and the bleakness of the landscape) that keeps us engrossed.