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Desierto review: a well-timed take on what Trump's America could look like

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:39 IST

Though Desierto was meant to release in 2015 in the US, it could not have come at a more relevant moment now that Donald Trump is all set to be the next president of the United States despite his bigoted, racist and misogynistic ways. The very plot of the movie is a chilling reminder of exactly what could go wrong in an America helmed by him - the very first day after the election results was enough of a sneak peek for most to swallow.

If Trump watched the movie, he'd probably clamour some more for a wall to be built on the US-Mexico border to stop illegal crossings. But he shouldn't worry if he's got people like Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) doing his bidding and making a game out of hunting Mexicans - there'd be no point sinking billions into building such a wall.

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For Sam, whose head is a little scrambled by the desert sun, it's almost a duty to take out desperate Mexicans who are trying to cross over to make a better life for themselves. He's simply keeping his land "free of filth".

Desierto is co-written and directed by Jonas Cuaron, the son of the fabulous Alfonso Cuaron. Cuaron Jr proves that he has a knack for tension. The movie is a tense knot in its entirety, aided by bone-chilling thumping music that only heightens thrill.

It opens with a truck of immigrants who are making their way from Mexico to the border. When their truck breaks down, they're forced to trek it on foot across 'the badlands', a route that is usually avoided.

Sure enough, on the other side of the fence sits Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Sam in his car, sipping whiskey. He tells his dog Tracker, an incredibly obedient German Shepherd: "Let's go huntin'."

As the groups of Mexicans scramble across the harsh landscape, they're picked off one by one by his rifle and keen eye. We don't get much of their backstory, likely because it would have taken the edge of the movie.

The group slowly whittle down to just a few, leading to tense chases and horror-like moments. It's so stomach-turning at points, that you'll involuntarily look away during some scenes. The hero of this taut scenario is Moises (Gael Garcia Bernal), who acts as an antithesis to Sam in every way possible - physical reality or the metaphorical sell of the movie. He's a survivor who's crossed over before, and his push for survival makes for a compelling watch.

Eventually it comes down to Bernal vs Morgan. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is gruff and unapologetically one-note throughout, but with a layer of menace not seen in his earlier works.

Cuaron uses the geography and stark beauty of the landscape well, much like his father made gorgeous use of Sandra Bullock floating about in empty space in Gravity. But besides the landscapes, there isn't much beauty in the film at all - just a whole lot of blood and gore.

One moment in the movie that could have been worked out better is a perfunctory pause in the middle where each remaining character gets a short monologue to explain their goals and life's mission. It fails, because the movie is never interested in doing a character study, but just carnage.

Which is why it's hard to be sure if this was made to indict anti-immigrant rage, which is only bound to rise in the coming months as Trump legitimises such hatred, or whether it's meant to serve as a warning for would-be crossers.

RATING: 3 out of 5

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First published: 11 November 2016, 6:47 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.