DESIERTO is a straight ahead chased-by-a-sniper thriller that I know at least one person has encouraged me to review, but I couldn’t find who. Thanks for the recommendation, whoever it was. I remembered it after watching THE COURIER last week, because The Courier himself, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, plays the sniper in this one.

It’s directed by Jonás Cuarón, son of Alfonse and co-writer of GRAVITY. This time he co-wrote with Mateo Garcia. It’s about a group of Mexican migrant workers trying to cross the US border illegally, and encountering a crazy fuckin asshole (Morgan).

I don’t remember them ever saying the main characters’ names, but Gael García Bernal (THE LIMITS OF CONTROL) plays our protagonist Moises, a sometime mechanic who is trying to return to his family in Oakland after being deported for a broken tail light. When the truck they’re being transported on breaks down in the middle of the desert, their guides Mechas (Diego Cataño, SAVAGES, THE MULE) and Lobo (Marco Pérez, AMORES PERROS) reluctantly lead them on foot through a dangerous area they don’t know very well called the Badlands.

It’s not a fun time. It’s record heat (120 degrees fahrenheit), the guides keep yelling at them to keep moving, and one guy is finding it harder than expected, frequently collapsing, out of breath. Moises wins his spot as the lead not just because the camera stays on him, but because he’s the one who tries to help the fallen get up and keep going, which is how he gets left back and separated from the main group.

His empathy saves his life, because the stragglers happen to be out of sight, behind some rocks, when the crazed gringo Sam (Morgan) spots the others from a distance, and starts shooting them one-by-one.

Sam drives, and possibly lives in, a big-ass off-roading pickup truck (admittedly not nearly as big-ass as a guy like this would own now). He listens to country music and has both a Confederate flag and a Don’t Tread On Me sticker as decoration, wears camouflage pants, sleeveless undershirt and trucker hat, all the accessories of the standard issue redneck asshole stereotype, but the casting of Morgan gives him a little something different. I hate Sam, but in a certain sense he’s undeniably cool. He has that distinct Jeffrey Dean Morgan manner of carrying himself like a big tough guy but also moving like a weird lanky guy. He drawls cool. He smokes cigarettes cool. He poses cool. He’s a piece of shit, though.

It’s possible he came out here for this, maybe even that he’s done it before, but I don’t think so. He’s just driving around with his dog Tracker (who is also his tracker), hunting rabbits to cook over a campfire. When he gets stopped by a Border Patrol officer (Lew Temple, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, DOMINO, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, HALLOWEEN (2007), NO MAN’S LAND: THE RISE OF REEKER, UNSTOPPABLE, LAWLESS, THE LONE RANGER, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD) he says he called earlier to report “illegal alien tracks” and gets pissed off that this officer doesn’t know anything about it. He’s just dripping with that I-want-to-talk-to-the-manager righteousness. So when he comes across this group later he apparently feels like he’s justified to slaughter them like animals, although you would also be a fucking psycho if you did that to animals. What the fuck is your problem?

The other thing that’s great about Morgan’s performance is that way down beneath the swagger there are traces of the broken, scared little freak he really is. When he’s finished murdering something like twelve human beings in a couple of minutes he sits in his car, downs some Jack Daniel’s and starts screaming, halfway between “whoo, what a rush!” and crying. Starts yelling some bullshit about this is his home and people not fucking with him anymore. It’s a succint summary of a specific type of pathetic dude – the type who use a long debunked theory about wolves to justify being dickheads and demeaning others to feel powerful.

I’m tempted to call this an American WOLF CREEK – crazy rugged asshole taking advantage of the isolation and dangerous terrain to torment outsiders. And since he’s American obviously he has to do it with a gun. Of course it also brings to mind psycho sniper movies like DOWNRANGE and NIGHT OF THE HUNTED (2023) and another one I haven’t seen called CARNAGE PARK. But it’s a chase instead of a siege – they’re not trapped in one place, they keep running – and it’s much simpler. Pretty minimal in the backstory or subplot departments, and not as many items around to try to use to fight back or call for help. It’s mostly running, lugging their backpacks and jugs of water, climbing over and across rocks, crawling along ledges, hiding behind hills, trying not to be heard or seen. Sometimes crawling through cacti, running into a big pile of rattlesnakes, stuff like that.

Pretty soon it’s just Moises and a teenage girl named Adela (Alondra Hidalgo, THE CHOSEN), who confides that she didn’t even want to go but her parents made her because they thought the town they lived in was too dangerous. Not as bad as this, obviously. When Moises tells the story of telling his son he’ll come back, and his wife saying not to make promises he won’t keep, it’s a simple but effective way to up the stakes. Obviously I didn’t want him to get shot, but it’s even more tense now that I’m thinking about that kid in Oakland never knowing what happened, assuming his father was a deadbeat who didn’t care enough to come back to him.

You gotta feel sorry for Tracker because he doesn’t know any better. He’s doing what he was trained to do. But he’s a fascist little fucker and he, uh, suffers the consequences. It’s a particularly brutal part of the movie that some viewers will not appreciate. Another person more upset by animals dying than humans is Sam, who blubbers at the unfairness of this loss, telling Tracker “I’m sorry,” but I’m not sure that means he recognizes that it’s his fault for committing this massacre and for sending Tracker to attack people.

There’s pretty much one way a movie about this needs to go, right? Moises keeps trying to get away from the gun, but will eventually have to try to get Sam away from the gun and go after him. It’s a simple thing, but it’s cool to have a whole movie about the main character trying to keep his distance from the villain, and finally at the end coming face to face with him.

I don’t think DESIERTO is necessarily a message movie. I’m not sure it’s making any points or would make many people think about things. But it can’t help but take on extra dimension in this time of racist anti-immigrant fervor, so I’m sorry but I’m gonna have to vent about that a little.

I was raised to believe that America was built by and with and for immigrants. The current immigration stance of mainstream conservatism, sadly with support from some elected Democrats, would’ve been considered fringe KKK shit when I was growing up. They don’t even attempt to hide its basis in racism, and when they claim a conspiracy to get more Democratic voters it’s a confession about who their policies are designed to help and who they’re designed to hurt. Whoops.

While we’re at it, I’m not religious, but I did grow up going to a church that taught that Christianity was about helping refugees and the poor. That’s referenced in the opening of DESIERTO when Adela reads a prayer about Jesus being a migrant. Maybe it’s none of my business, but it really does piss me off how many of the cruelest bastards in this country try to force weird little oppressive parts of their religion on the entire country, while so flagrantly representing the opposite of all its kind and peaceful tenets. I don’t know Jesus but if I was him I think I would be frustrated by how many of his guys just make him out to be a fucking asshole.

Of course, the characters in DESIERTO are trying to cross illegally, so these anti-immigration people would say they should do it “through proper channels,” and this is true. It would be better if Moises could be with his family and Adela could be safe without breaking the law. That’s why we can all agree that the goal here should be to streamline the process and make it much easier for them to do that. So that it can be proper. Good, it’s settled.

Unfortunately it’s not that easy. Recently, Republican politicians and right wing media rallied around the state of Texas in a dispute with the federal government over illegally installing razor wire along the Rio Grande. You know what Jesus said – it’s better for human beings to be brutally sliced up and drown than to enter a country undocumented. People started talking about starting another civil war because they were so offended by an incident where federal Border Patrol agents (generally an extreme right wing organization, by the way) wanted to enter a park to respond to a distress call. Texas got what they wanted – the deaths of a mother and her 8 and 10 year old sons – but they’re furious at the idea that hypothetically the federal government could try to stop them from doing it next time. They literally lust for blood.

So however the character of Sam came across in 2015, in 2024 he doesn’t seem that far fetched. I actually won’t be surprised if this happens. So my advice is if this type of thriller sounds entertaining to you, you better watch it before it hits too close to home.



This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 20th, 2024 at 7:18 am and is filed under Reviews, Action, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Responses to “Desierto”

  1. I thought Carnage Park was pretty awful but I vaguely remember going in thinking (possibly mistakenly?) that it was inspired by Punishment Park and that puts some pretty high expectations on a movie.

    I’ve wondered for a while why we aren’t just flooded with horror movies about border crossings, but I guess the amount hearing about Desierto makes me go ‘wow I do not want to watch that’ probably explains some of that.1

  2. Let’s be honest. Shit is depressing right now.

    That said: It sounds like an exciting movie!

  3. Full disclosure: when there’s a first time commenter I have to approve the post, and usually I do as long as it’s not spam, but I decided not to welcome Bernadino, who recommended spraying refugees with water cannons in the winter because he believes the EU has turned into a terrifying dystopic wasteland because migrants are rapists, blah blah blah. Sorry sir, we’re not accepting deranged racist fuckfaces today, you’ll have to go through the proper channels (write a post that arguably contributes more to the world than an AI generated dick pill spam).

  4. who recommended spraying refugees with water cannons in the winter because he believes the EU has turned into a terrifying dystopic wasteland because migrants are rapists, blah blah blah.

    Well, that certainly is an interesting point of view…

    I guess thank you for at least summarizing their unique philosophy, so no first amendment rights were violated

    (actually, if they’re European, they probably don’t have that right. I guess I should say “thank you for extending that courtesy”)

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