HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:75
“Desierto” comes out right at a time when the discussion about immigration (and especially illegal immigration) is a raging hot bed of discussion in our society right now. Some sides are in favor of a wall to lock it down, others are in the middle, and yet others swing heavily to the left and have a lot of empathy for people coming to the United States from the southern side of the border. Jonas Curan (son of Alfonso Curan, writer/director of “Gravity), who also co-wrote the film, weaves an intense story about a lone immigrant coming over the border illegally and the savage hunter who wants to make sure he doesn’t make it across. In some ways its politically poignant, but in other ways the obvious slant of trying to invoke obvious sympathy for the immigrants (despite the legality of the situation) is kind of overdone. “Desierto” is an intense 89-minute film, that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end.
Moises (Gael Garcia Bernal) is on his way across the southern border into Arizona or California (it’s hard to tell WHERE other than that it is in the Sonoran Desert) with a group of other illegal immigrants in order to reunite with his son in California. Things get ugly about half way there when their coyote’s (the runner who organizes the group for payment) truck breaks down and they are forced to hoof it the rest of the way. It’s pretty obvious from the get go that the rest of the migrants are not that important to the story, so it’s no surprise when Moises and three or four of the slower ones get left behind due to their sluggishness. However, being left behind may be a small blessing, because shortly after the group falls to the rear they are just back far enough to witness a lone man pull up in a truck and systematically gun down the migrants with impunity with a hunting rifle.
It seems that this man (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a little bit of a radicalized individual who sees the hordes of illegal immigrants as a personal threat. While Moises and the rest of the stragglers are shocked to see the death of their comrades, they’re not prepared when the shooter’s tracking dog picks up their scent and draws his attention to them. Now Moises and the rest of the crew are being hunted one at a time by a crazed lunatic and his viciously trained attack dog out in the open desert. Systematically whittled down to the last survivor, Moises is now faced with the daunting task of eluding this man and somehow making it to safety before he is gunned down or torn to pieces by the dog.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90226[/img]“Desierto” is a mixed bag of treats. On one hand, it is a bit overly political and has a VERY obvious bent at trying to make you empathize with the illegal immigrant’s plight. Painting Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a crazed lunatic screaming things like “this is MY home!” and whining to his dog about how he hates it now that the state is over run by immigrants crossing the border. It can come off across as a bit hyperbolic for those who run a more politically conservative bent. On the other hand, it’s NOT overdone all the time. Those moments are few and far between, leaving a majority of the runtime focusing on a psychotic killer chasing down an unarmed man in the desert. Basically, another iteration of the famous story “The Most Dangerous Game”, which has been copied, re-copied, and then copied few more times over the last several decades of literature and film.
The film keeps dialog to a minimum and instead focuses on the thrill of the chase, utilizing facial expressions and intense music to push the storyline along. With long portions of the film being about the hunt, we aren’t too worried about character development (besides Moises talking about his son to a female immigrant, or Jeffrey Dean Morgan talking to his dog about how much he hates life) so it’s a lean and tight viewing with and the enjoyment coming from the thrill of the chase more than anything. Curan does a good job at creating empathy for Moises, making Morgan out to be a lunatic killer and endearing the viewer to Gael as a result. Things never break past a superficial layer, but the film is highly kinetic and a fun watch for those of you who like taught thrillers.
Rated R for strong violence and language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90234[/img]Once again information is scant on what camera sources were used for “Desierto”, or the finishing resolution of the master, but it looks to be a digital affair. One thing that DID stand out to me was that IMDB and a few other places list it as being shot in 2.35:1, but the Universal Blu-ray is at a wide screen 1.85:1 ration, leaving me to wonder if the film was open matte or cropped, or maybe the 2.35:1 is not the original ratio. However, the Blu-ray release is nothing short of stunning, with the dusty arid desert background of Arizona/California’s border creating a very textural rich (and rather bleak) setting for the proverbial hunt. The landscape is dominated with earthy tones due to the desert nature of the setting, but there are smatterings of bright greens from Cacti, as well as the splashes of color from a loose bandanna or the bright CGI of blood as a sniper’s bullet takes out the migrants one by one. The brown tones tend to make the film look a bit desaturated and bleak, but facial and natural detail around the two main characters stand out splendidly, and the black levels are deep and inky without showing too much crush.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90242[/img]The solitary 5.1 DTS-HD MA track on board Universal’s Blu-ray disc is almost as good as the exemplary video score. Much of the film is about listening to the sounds of nature around the people, with short bursts of dialog to punctuate the silence. The surrounds and mains are utilized extensively with the sounds of rocks rattling down a slope, or a rattlesnake slithering over a person’s leg in the background. Things like bullets whistle overhead with startling accuracy, and make for some really well done directional queues. The score is tight and intense, utilizing most of the bass (besides the afore mentioned gunshots) and it has a nicely encompassing feel to it that fills out the backend a goodly amount. The limited dialog is crisp and cleanly replicated in the center channel, and seems to be well balanced with the rest of the track. No complaints here.
• Director's Commentary
“Desierto” is a decent enough little thriller that has Jonas Curan’s second outing as a feature film maker a moderately successful one. There’s not a whole lot of finesse to the political undertones of the movie, but the simplistic nature of the “man hunting another man” genre doesn’t really make that a really big necessity. It’s a short thriller, but a highly energetic and tense viewing, making it some good watching for those of us who enjoy thrillers. The Blu-ray from Universal sports great video and good audio although only a lone, solitary, commentary is the only thing making up any substantial extras (besides the obligatory streamed trailers at the beginning of the film). Solid Watch.
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Gael García Bernal
Directed by: Jonás Cuarón
Written by: Mateo Garcia, Jonás Cuarón
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 89 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 7th, 2017
Buy Desierto On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Solid Watch
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