Formulaic survival-horror flick Desierto, which pits a racist gringo against a group of Mexican border crossers, is only superficially different from other slasher films. Xenophobic American hunter Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) follows in Leatherface’s and Jason Voorhees’s footsteps as he ruthlessly stalks and murders a group of Mexican immigrants led by Good Samaritan Moises (Gael García Bernal).
Co-writer/director Jonás Cuarón (son of Alfonso and co-writer of Gravity) interrupts Sam’s monotonous killing spree just long enough to reveal humanizing details about Moises’s group, as when petrified teen Adela (Alondra Hidalgo) confesses to Moises that her chauvinistic companion Ramiro (Oscar Flores) was paid by her parents to be her chaperone — but has been sexually abusing her throughout their trip.
These occasional dialogue scenes add a (simplistic) political subtext to Cuarón’s otherwise predictable run-and-kill narrative. Sam talks like a caricature of jingoistic Ugly Americans, boasting to his vicious attack dog, Tracker, that he’s going to get the Mexicans before they can “come after me.” It’s hard not to laugh at how superhumanly evil he is: He’s so fast, keen-eyed, and foulmouthed that he almost never misses a shot, all while constantly muttering about Mexican “motherfuckers.”
Sam’s racist behavior may be intended to make him a menacing sign of our times, but such unbelievable mustache-twirling makes him as threatening as a C-grade Freddy Krueger knockoff.
Directed by Jonás Cuarón
Opens October 14, TKTKTTK