Illegal immigrants crossing into America get more than they bargained for in first-time director Jonás Cuarón’s low-budget exploitation thriller ‘Desierto.’ Co-produced by his famous director father Alfonso (‘Y Tu Mama Tambien,’ ‘Children of Men,’ ‘Gravity’), its hot-button topic of Mexicans pouring across our borders is not only timely and relevant but will undoubtedly provoke debate as we approach the end of another election year. Trump may already have lost, but at least his supporters can indulge a bit in this cinematic fantasy in pure homicidal excess. Note: I'm not one of them.
When a group of migrant workers seeking to realize the "American Dream" of making a living outside of Home Depots in Los Estados Unidos becomes stranded after their truck broke down in the middle of the Arizona badlands, they find themselves terrorized and hunted by a text-book card-carrying, rifle-toting NRA redneck named (Uncle?) Sam (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his ferocious hunting dog. As they are systematically picked off one by one, auto mechanic Moises (Gael Garcia Bernal) must draw upon every ounce of his reserves to survive and reunite with his familia. Can he do it, or will he become the latest victim of El Gringo?
Lean, primal and visceral, ‘Desierto’ is gripping in its tension and tightly wound suspense even if its plot is simplistic and its characterizations are thin. Morgan and Bernal are both believable in their roles as the hunter and the hunted, and the film managed to keep us on edge throughout its 90-minute or so running time. Make no mistake, ‘Desierto’ is a shameless and exploitative B-movie taking advantage of a divisive political issue, but it certainly isn’t alone in that regard.