Negan is now securing the border...

Please note the review below may contain minor spoilers - I've done my best to keep them to a minimum.

After the claustrophobic Gravity, writer Jonás Cuarón opted for his next project to be more open - one of capacious scenery - as he attempts to showcase the plight of the Mexican immigrant attempting illegal entry into the United States; with Desierto.

Desierto (Spanish for desert) opens with a lone, beat-up truck speeding towards the sprawling border separating the two nations; looking akin to a pebble in an ocean of desert, that would fit perfectly into the harrowing world of Mad Max. Onboard this ramshackle vehicle, are upwards of a dozen Mexican-residents looking for a different life, a better life, or to return to their families who currently call the United States their home.

One of these people is Moises (played by Gael García Bernal) - a mechanic - who is aiming to reunite with his wife and newborn residing in the U.S. Unfortunately that trip is about to get a whole lot tougher, with their vessel now refusing to budge any further - it’s time to get out, and commit to the harsh walk.

On the other side of the fence, we have Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) a complete caricature of every racist stereotype in modern media. Loves hunting and guns? Check. Has the Confederate flag flying high? Check. Drives a large truck whilst swilling liquor? Check. Some kind of veteran background hinted at? Check.

Whilst Sam is patrolling the border, looking for prey - the smaller kind in this case, in the form of rabbits - he stumbles upon tracks of supposed illegal immigrants, and in turn reports them to the local patrol officer during a routine stop. With the police officer disinterested in his claims, Sam decides to go hunting once again, but this time for some bigger prey.

Whilst Desierto is entirely different thematically to Gravity, it shares in the same claustrophobic nature of death being mere millimeters away, as Sam - who may as well be be Jeffery Dean Morgan's character of Negan from The Walking Dead - picks off each of the entirely oblivious migrants wandering the desert.

And as a cat-and-mouse thriller Desierto works well, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan doing his best Michael Myers impression - replacing the iconic butcher knife with a high powered rifle - and a loyal, yet seemingly monstrous, man-eating dog in tow; fittingly named Tracker - once again reinforcing along with Green Room that 2016 is the year of the vicious dog attack movie.

Speaking of man-eating canine’s, one scene involving the animal and a flare gun disturbed me in particular. But oddly the same can’t be said for the human deaths - outside of the initial mass-murder - this is in part due to how shallow proceedings truly are, with characters in Desierto merely skin-deep, never really giving you a reason to root for - in the case of the hapless victims - or hate in the form of Sam. Thankfully the technical aspects of Desierto shine bright, with some solid cinematography of the seemingly never-ending, deserted crime scene, that adds to the great sense of despair emitted throughout.

Desierto - (Gael García Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Cataño and Marco Pérez)

Unfortunately, I’d say the poor establishing of Sam’s character is an introduction to the root problems that plague Desierto, which - underneath its stalker-thriller trappings - aims to shine a light on a deeper message, one that the filmmakers are aiming for - regarding the plight of Mexicans looking for a better life - but completely falls flat . Within this message Sam is used merely as a boogeyman, a cheap plot device for the ensuing events whose motives are never clearly laid out.

You are truly left wonder, does Sam goes out into the desert every Sunday? With the intention to hunt and kill human beings. But the contradicting events that transpire - preceding his first kills - tell us no, that there is something else going on, but never really elaborated on; which is completely at odds with his clearly trained human-hunting, best friend. These sort of inconsistencies and omissions is where Desierto falls into mediocrity, going from a film that had the opportunity to be something far more grand, but sadly failing to live up to that potential.

The most glaring omission of Desierto though - the home release anyway - is the complete absence of any kind of special features, with a mere chapter select and trailer accompanying the film itself. Some kind of featurette showcasing the events of researching the death-defying trek of crossing the border, and the logistics of such a thing seem like a no brainer to include, alas no such luck.

Desierto is a movie of two tales, one succeeding in becoming an enjoyable, well-filmed thriller; of a man terrorising a cast of hapless victims in the middle of a desert.

The other, a film in Desierto that's aiming to be something beyond that - one with a message - but completely falling at the first hurdle in that aspect, with an illogically, inconsistent and ill-defined script accomplishing nothing beyond passive entertainment.

A DVD review copy of Desierto was provided by the distributor for review purposes.

  • Review by
    David Robinson

    Twitter: @5ypher

    Posted on
    12th November 2016

  • 3 Out of 5 Stars
  • Illogical underpinnings

    Ill-defined characters

    No special features

  • Well-shot

    Beautiful scenery

    Vicious dog attacks

Film Info

Desierto Desierto
Rating: 15
Release Date: 7th November
Runtime: 1 hr 34 mins
Director: Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Cataño & Marco Pérez

  • Green Room
  • No Escape

No, many scenes of disturbing language and violence.

Contains English subtitles for all Spanish-spoken dialogue.

No blu-ray release is currently available (in UK) for Desierto, only a DVD format.