‘Kingdom of Shadows’ Offers a Sweeping, Hopeless Portrait of the Suffering Wreaked by the Drug Trade


Splitting its focus between a nun committed to social action, a Texas rancher who for years worked as a marijuana smuggler, and a Department of Homeland Security agent with a background in undercover work, Kingdom of Shadows, like Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land, takes a multi-pronged look at the Mexican drug trade.

Though at times too splintered by its various points of interest, Bernardo Ruiz’s up-close-and-personal documentary is nonetheless harrowing in its details, from footage of cartel victims swinging from highway overpasses to a masked cartel member recounting how, upon first working at a “narco-kitchen” — a spot where the gangs incinerate bodies in giant drums — he couldn’t eat meat for a month.

Through the stories of its three subjects, the film delivers a sweeping portrait of the suffering wreaked by the trade, which is run by ruthless organizations that in many cases control the authorities.

More than the anecdotes about high-flying trafficking and citizen groups’ arduous efforts to locate their beloved “disappeared,” it’s the gnawing sense of hopelessness — of the powerless fighting in vain against a system driven only by amoral greed — that ultimately defines this distressing nonfiction exposé.

Kingdom of Shadows

Directed by Bernardo Ruiz

Participant Media

Opens November 20, Cinema Village