Festival Review: Desierto (2015)


A horror movie set on the Mexican border, Jonás Cuarón’s Desierto is a barren wasteland of American violence and Mexican victims.


by Mark Wilshin


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

A mutual obsession in both the USA and Mexico, the frontier has proved fertile ground for filmmaker from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel to Diego Quemada-Díez’ The Golden Dream. But Jonás Cuáron’s Desierto stumbles quickly over the first barbed wire fence and its premise of a lorryload of Mexican immigrants picked off by a lone rifleman (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) spins out of control from the first shot fired. Not only are the border police too lazy to check out reports of Mexican immigrants on the Baja California border, they don’t even seem to notice Moises (Gael Garcia Bernal) running after them, shouting and arms waving. But that’s not the worst of it. Given a horror movie structure, Cuarón presents his psychopathic villain with little explanation, apart from a Confederacy flag and some awkward hate-filled monologuing with his dog. And despite some beautiful cinematography in the desert, Desierto is an ugly film – with poorly written dialogue and a script that pushes and pulls its characters as the mood takes it. And with a hostile story of unexplained USA aggression towards its neighbours south of the border, Desierto is a curiously aggressive, puerile and often baffling attack on prejudice and violence in the United States. Stuck in this arid wasteland for over 90 minutes, the only sign of hope is Gael Garcia Bernal, who somehow survives the horror. But carrying his burden and dragging himself towards the Californian lights in the distance, that might be Gael Garcia Bernal heading for the hills.

Desierto is now showing at the London Film Festival

Join the discussion