Tag Archives: Mexican cinema

The Darkness

The Darkness

Seen at L’Étrange Festival, Paris (France)

Format: Cinema

Director: Daniel Castro Zimbrón

Writers: Daniel Castro Zimbrón, Denis Languérand, David Pablos

Cast: Brontis Jodorowsky, Aliocha Sotnikoff, Camila Robertson Glennie

Original title: Las tinieblas

Mexico, France 2016

91 mins

Daniel Castro Zimbrón’s twilight tale of an isolated Mexican family in the woods impressed at the L’Étrange Festival.

This year’s L’Étrange Festival opened with the world premiere of Daniel Castro Zimbrón’s new feature film The Darkness (Las tinieblas). After Tau (meaning ‘sun’ in the Huichol language), which dealt with a biologist stranded in a sunburnt desert and forced to reconsider his past and present, this second part of the ‘Trilogy of Light’ explores the other extreme, while starring the same Gustavo, convincingly and charismatically played by Brontis Jodorowsky. This time the desert gives way to a misty forest, where a father lives with his three children: a teenage Marcos, 12-year-old Argel and 8-year-old Luciana. They live alone in the woods, cloistered in a house repeatedly haunted by something dark, noisy and scary, in an unspecified future. The post-apocalyptic dimension of these woods is only vaguely hinted at when young Argel asks his father about the use of an old rusted pick-up, a relic from an unknown, bygone past. In this indefinite future there seem to be neither seasons nor any difference between day and night – only claustrophobic mist-ridden twilight. The title’s darkness is recurrently created by the father’s meticulously closing the shutters and locking his children in the cellar for bedtime. This world is further blurred by Argel’s mystical dreams, which invade the narration now and again, revealing their oneiric nature only when Argel wakes up. In one such dream, a Pandora-like box diffusing a blinding white light alludes to Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955), where a similar box was the fruit of the Manhattan Project.

The fact that the whole story is narrated from Argel’s point of view, oscillating between dream and reality, adds to the general mystery, as does the masterful cinematography of Diego García who, as in Tau, shoots exclusively in natural light. Tenebrist tableaux, reminiscent of Caravaggio or Joseph Wright of Derby, are worth a look for themselves, but Zimbrón avoids complacent indulgence in mannerist camerawork by endowing his shots and his plot with an inner depth that transfigures the film from a post-apocalyptic thriller into a universal comédie humaine, exploring the confused limits between parental protection and authority, set against young Argel’s coming-of-age. For the beast that visits the house ‘nightly’ is (to quote the director’s own words) ‘a metaphor of the world in which we live, in which the beast represents the dangers outside the home as well as the dark side of human nature’. During his waking hours, the father makes elaborate wooden puppets of and for his children, the last one being fashioned after Luciana’s drawing of him as a spider-shaped monster. Like this puppeteer, Zimbrón manipulates our expectations, scatters contradictory clues as to what is really going on, and deceives us into believing in a M. Night Shyamalan-like twist, only to depart from it in the last part of the film, leaving us eventually, bewitchingly and literally in the dark.

Pierre Kapitaniak

The Untamed

The Untamed

Seen at L’Étrange Festival, Paris (France)

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release date: 22 May 2017

Director: Amat Escalante

Writers: Amat Escalante, Gibrán Portela

Cast: Kenny Johnston, Simone Bucio

Original title: La región salvaje

Mexico, Denmark, France 2016

100 mins

Amat Escalante’s SF exploration of Mexican society’s attitudes to sexuality is compelling despite its overuse of the supernatural.

Two Mexican films shown this year at the Etrange Festival – The Darkness and The Untamed – happen to focus on a small house in a forest clearing where strange things happen. But this is as far as the comparison extends. Awarded the Silver Lion for Best Director at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Amat Escalante’s The Untamed borrows its premise from Pasolini’s Theorem: a family is disrupted by the arrival of a very attractive stranger who seduces all of its members and turns theirs lives upside down. Where Pasolini was lashing out at the Italian bourgeoisie of the 1960s, Escalante similarly confronts a contemporary Mexican society still hopelessly bogged down in machismo, misogyny and homophobia.

The opening sequence, which contrasts two visions of female sexuality, gives a good insight into what Escalante is driving at. After a shot of a meteorite in outer space, the camera zooms on a naked Veronica (Simone Bucio) slowly reaching a climax in a dark room, eventually revealing a glimpse of the receding long tentacle that has just given her pleasure. She then leaves the wood cabin wounded and bleeding. In the next scene we witness a couple – Angel (Jesús Meza) and Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) – waking up in a sunlit bedroom. Without any preliminaries or even a kiss, Angel takes Ale from behind while the camera zooms in on her face, still and expressionless on the pillow as she waits for him to come. She then wipes herself, gets up and masturbates under the shower until she is interrupted by their kids… After meeting Ale’s gay brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio), who works as a nurse in the local hospital, Veronica intrudes into the lives of those three characters, changing them for ever.

She is the visitor here, and Escalante plays on the name given to Terence Stamp’s character in Theorem, as the Visitor in this story is also an alien creature from outer space. The director justifies his recourse to the supernatural by the fact that reality has already gone beyond fiction, but by including a long explicit sex scene between Ale and the alien (and why not one of the men?) – which was greeted by laughter among the audience of the L’Étrange Festival – he undermines more than he enhances the film’s social criticism. In Possession (1981), Andrzej Żuławski (whose influence is acknowledged in the final credits) explicitly opted for the realm of madness, altogether forsaking realism. But Escalante wants to have it both ways and fails to solve the conflict between the genres. Showing the demon in Possession made sense in order to blur the boundaries between fantasy and reality. But since Escalante’s alien is established as real from the outset, it is hard to see the point of a sex scene that, far from producing the disturbing effect it had in Żuławski, seems to be revisiting Hideki Takayama’s manga and animés with an Overfiend redesigned by H. R. Giger. Escalante would have been better advised to follow the example of his Mexican compatriot Daniel Castro Zimbrén in The Darkness and retain more mystery, so that the otherworldly presence might serve more efficiently as a metaphor for the Mexican social atavisms he has been so brilliantly exposing in his films since his 2005 feature debut Sangre. The Untamed tones down the violence that shocked in Heli (2013) or Los Bastardos (2008) in favour of a more diffuse atmosphere of sadness and despair that still succeeds to convey Escalante’s powerful social message – despite, rather than thanks to, the alien’s presence.

Pierre Kapitaniak

The untamed screens at the London Film Festival on 8, 10, 16 October 2016.

We Are the Flesh

We Are the Flesh
We Are the Flesh

Seen at Fantasia 2016, Montreal (Canada)

Format: Cinema

Release date: 18 November 2016

DVD/BR release date: 13 February 2017

Distributor: Arrow Films

Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter

Writer: Emiliano Rocha Minter

Cast: Marìa Cid, Marìa Evoli, Diego Camaliel, Noé Hernandez

Original title: Tenemos la carne

Mexico, France 2016

79 mins

Emiliano Rocha Minter’s extreme theatre of the flesh was the climax of Fantasia.

Rituals and rebirth, libidinous excess and transformative violence: in his spectacular debut, Mexican director Emiliano Rocha Minter creates his very own Theatre of Cruelty, in a direct line to Alejandro Jodorowsky and Antonin Artaud, but with a fully formed personal vision. In a similar spirit to his illustrious predecessors, incest, cannibalism, orgy and slaughter are used to build an extreme sensory experience that brutally shakes up audiences’ aesthetic and moral preconceptions, forcing them into new forms of perception.

In what seems to be a post-apocalyptic world, a grubby middle-aged man goes about the business of survival in a derelict building. His solitary, wordless existence changes with the arrival of two ragged, starving young people. The older man, Christic, diabolical and off his head, feeds them eggs along with subversive thoughts, which recognize no conventional moral boundaries, until the boy – reluctantly – and the girl – readily – let go of all inhibitions and interdictions to descend into a lawless, frantic, primal state of blood and lust.

It is a film that fully, messily embraces the body, all gore and genitals, mucus and menstruation, sex and slime. Many of the acts performed take place in a psychedelically coloured womb-like, subterranean space, creating a world that is carnal and hallucinatory, crude and oneiric, explicit and artificial at the same time. It is an intense, confined performance of the flesh that reduces everything to the physical, in what is both a retreat and a rebellion. The shock of the flesh is a liberation from the rule (and in that, it is a very Sadean film), but it is also a withdrawal from the world, a refusal to engage with the outside reality. Indeed, despite initial appearances, We Are the Flesh is elliptically, obliquely about Mexico, with its distortion of Catholic rituals and its perverse rendition of the national anthem, and its final revelation of what lies above. A stunning masterwork, visually and sonically accomplished, radical, fearless, and nourished by an irrepressible, lush, dark energy.

Virginie Sélavy


Ilustration by James Stringer

Format: DVD

Screening date: 14 June 2014

Venue: Masonic Temple, Andaz Hotel Liverpool Street, London<

Part of the East End Film Festival, 13-25 June 2014
Director: Juan López Moctezuma

Writers: Alexis Arroyo, Tita Arroyo, Juan López Moctezuma, Yolanda López Moctezuma

Original title: Alucarda, la hija de las tinieblas

Based on the short story ‘Carmilla’ by: Sheridan Le Fanu

Cast: Tina Romero, Claudio Brook, Susana Kamini, David Silva, Tina French

Mexico 1978

74 mins

Electric Sheep is proud to present a rare screening of Alucarda at the amazing Masonic Temple, Andaz Hotel Liverpool Street, London, on Saturday 14 June, as part of the Magic and the Macabre weekend at the East End Film Festival. Acclaimed festival programmer and writer Kier-La Janisse, author of House of Psychotic Women (FAB Press), will introduce the screening.

Having produced Alejandro Jodorowsky’s incendiary first feature Fando y Lis (1968) as well as El topo (1970), Juan López Moctezuma went behind the camera in 1971 to make The Mansion of Madness (released in 1973), which was loosely based on an Edgar Allan Poe story. He followed it up with two vampire stories, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary, shot in the USA with John Carradine in 1975, and Alucarda in 1978. Like Fernando Méndez and Carlos Enrique Taboada, Moctezuma was one of a handful of well-read Mexican directors who were interested in making horror films infused with cultural references and artistic ambitions. In Mexico, the genre was dominated at the time by populist lucha libre movies such as the Santo series, which pitched heroic costumed wrestlers against monsters, vampires and mummies. However, Chano Urueta’s take on Frankenstein, El monstruo resucitado (1953), and Méndez’s influential El vampiro (1957) had opened the way for a richer vein of horror, and the 50s and 60s were marked by a wave of delirious visions of terror that are still lauded for their visual beauty and atmospheric qualities.

Visit illustrator James Stringer’s website.

Moctezuma was part of the Panique Theatre, which Jodorowsky had founded in Paris in 1962 with the Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal (on whose play Fando y Lis was based) and the French artist Roland Topor. The name was a reference to the god Pan, and the movement (or anti-movement, as Arrabal would have it) was defined by a combination of terror and humour. Influenced by Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, Panique embraced disorder, madness and excess, the grotesque and the irrational, to create an anarchic celebration of life. From Artaud they also inherited the interest in a magical and ritualistic kind of theatrical spectacle, which used violent sensory assault to open up new perspectives in the audience.

Moctezuma implemented these ideas in The Mansion of Madness, in which the patients of an insane asylum are allowed to run free as their doctor adopts an Aleister Crowley-influenced approach to their treatment. Set in the similarly confined environment of a convent, Alucarda took the director’s interest in strange cults and rituals further. Alucarda’s birth opens the film, her wretched mother, having been impregnated by the devil, delivering the baby in a crypt surrounded by diabolical, horned, half-goat statues. To protect the newborn from her terrible father, she asks a bizarre-looking gypsy to take her daughter to the convent. Fifteen years later, Justine, a young, orphaned ingénue, arrives at the convent to find herself sharing a room with the raven-haired, black-clad, wild-eyed Alucarda.

Alucarda is clearly out of place in the convent and her holy abode has not been able to suppress the devil in her blood. She draws Justine into her world, taking her to the derelict crypt of her birth where she proposes they take a blood oath, so they can be friends forever, ‘even after death’. The ritual is performed in their room at night, which, this being the 70s, involves both of them being naked as the gargoyle-like gypsy from the opening scene magically appears to make cuts on their breasts from which they drink each other’s blood. They find themselves in the forest, where a ritual performed by witches ends in an orgy. Intercut with this are images of Sister Angélica, who welcomed Justine into the convent, praying intensely until her face becomes bloodied and she levitates, apparently able to conjure up some sort of power that strikes down the gypsy witch leading the ceremony.

The clear lesbian undertones of the film come from Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’, on which Alucarda is very loosely based (the other literary reference is obviously Bram Stoker’s Dracula), but Moctezuma and his team of writers have made the story their own. The friendship between Alucarda and Justine has the devouring intensity of first love, but in the enclosed, all-female convent/hothouse, the girls’ repressed desires translate into demonic possession. The figure of Sister Angélica adds an interesting twist, turning the story into a spiritual lesbian love triangle. Her attachment to Justine is as dubiously excessive as Alucarda’s and is sublimated into a frighteningly exalted religious practice. The love triangle is complicated by Alucarda’s satanic nature and Sister Angélica’s self-sacrificial (‘angelic’) Christian figure, meaning that there is a lot more at stake than Justine’s affection: demonic Alucarda and holy Sister Angélica are battling over nothing less than Justine’s soul (the character is named after Sade’s unfortunate heroine, whose virtue is repeatedly assaulted by one group of perverted tormentors after another).

Alucarda has been seen as anticlerical, yet the depiction of religion comes across as very ambivalent, confused even. For a start, the convent is a very unusual religious edifice, a womb-like cave carved inside the rock. The nuns are dressed in off-white, red-stained robes and tight-fitting bonnets that make them look like mummies. Initially, there are intimations that Alucarda may be an adept of a natural religion, a religion of life opposed to the Catholic worship of death. The witches’ orgy contrasts with a later display of self-flagellation among the half-naked nuns and priests. An early, sumptuously sinister, almost painterly sermon takes place against the backdrop of a multitude of crucified Christs, creating an oppressive, macabre atmosphere. This is echoed in a later scene where Alucarda and Justine, naked, are tied to crosses for an exorcism ceremony. The dark, rich colours, the high camera angle and the cruelty of the ritual again conjure a memorable vision of religious maleficence.

And yet, Dr Oszek, who interrupts the exorcism and calls the officiating priest barbaric, is soon confronted with a gruesome supernatural phenomenon that destroys his scientific certainties and validates the priest’s beliefs. In one of the film’s most striking scenes, an undead (and again naked) Justine comes out of a blood-filled coffin to attack the devoted Sister Angélica. Alucarda proves a worthy daughter to her father when she unleashes hell upon the convent, stopped only by the body of the Christic Sister Angélica carried cross-like by the other nuns. All in all, you could say the Christian characters come out of this looking fairly reasonable in the circumstances.

The truth is that Moctezuma seems much more interested in extreme rituals of all kinds than in putting across an anticlerical message. The devil here appears in the form of Pan, as seen in the statues in the crypt and later in the goat’s head that presides over the orgiastic celebration in the forest, which clearly ties in with the ideas underlying Panique Theatre. The same actor, Claudio Brook (a Buñuel regular), plays both Dr Oszek and the gypsy, so that reason’s representative is also our mischievous guide into the occult and spiritual world, further undermining the rational standpoint. The many rituals, whether Christian or satanic, the orgy and the flagellation, the blood oath and the exorcism, are all marked by excess and strangeness, violence and beauty. The contrast between the beliefs that inform them is not what matters here; rather, the overall effect of their juxtaposition as grotesque and startling spectacles may well be designed to shock the audience into a new mode of perception.

Virginie Sélavy

This article was first published in the autumn 09 issue of Electric Sheep Magazine.

We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are
We Are What We Are

Format: Cinema

Release date: 28 February 2014

Distributor: Entertainment One

Director: Jim Mickle

Writers: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle

Cast: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Kelly McGillis

Based on the film: Somos lo que hay (Jorge Michel Grau, 2010)

USA 2013

105 mins

Based on the 2010 Mexican film of the same title, Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are is not so much a remake as an entirely new film revolving around the same premise. Jorge Michel Grau’s film was gritty and realistic, with a few staggeringly visceral, gruesome scenes. Through the portrait of a family of cannibals, it hinted at the brutality of survival among Mexico’s poorest, and observed the shifting family dynamics after the death of the father, mixing in intimations of incest and awakening homosexual desires.

Shifting the focus from this man-eat-man social jungle to the unquestioning observance of rigid, archaic beliefs, Mickle places the story within the context of American history, making the family’s cannibalism a twisted practice going back to the hardships of their pioneer ancestors. In so doing, he also switches the gender roles of the original. In Grau’s film, the men were nominally in charge, even though the women were by far the fiercest and most ruthless members of the family. Here, the women are the keepers of the ritual, and when the mother dies, it is up to the delicate, pretty blonde daughters to continue the tradition under the oppressive control of their tyrannical father, with their youth and innocence a shocking contrast to the grim acts they are forced to perform.

Replacing the muscular direction of his post-apocalyptic vampire movie Stake Land with an eerie, dreamy atmosphere bathed in blueish tones, Mickle has fashioned a melancholy American Gothic tale set deep among bleak, misty mountains. Far less brutal and bloody than its Mexican predecessor, the film is surprisingly restrained and eschews showing any gory details until the explosion of violence that concludes the story. That grisly denouement jars with the rest of the film and seems unnecessarily excessive on first view, although it is perhaps needed to balance the muted sadness that dominates throughout. Regardless of how that end is perceived, We Are What We Are easily stands out among the dumb and dire remakes that relentlessly clog cinema screens. A thoughtful, intelligent take on the earlier film, it exerts a spellbinding charm that is all its own.

An earlier version of this review was published as part of our FrightFest 2013 coverage.

Virginie Sélavy

Watch the trailer:

Miss Bala

Miss Bala

Format: Cinema

Release date: 28 October 2011

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Gerardo Naranjo

Writers: Gerardo Naranjo, Mauricio Katz

Cast: Stephanie Sigman, Irene Azuela, Miguel Couturier

Mexico 2011

113 mins

The second feature from Gerardo Naranjo, Miss Bala is a searing, brutal film set in the midst of Mexico’s vicious drug war. Laura (played by the terrific Stephanie Sigman), her bedroom walls covered in images torn from the pages of fashion magazines, is a stunning but poor young woman who dreams of winning the Miss Baja California beauty contest. Unless that happens, she’s stuck in a mundane existence caring for her father and young brother. But the night before her audition, she witnesses an attack by members of a cartel on a club filled with cops, gangsters and their girlfriends. She manages to dodge the hail of bullets, escaping unharmed, but loses her friend Suzu in the chaos. After one terrible error on Laura’s part, she’s plunged into a morass of betrayal, corruption and violence.

Naranjo has made a very different film from his 2008 debut, Voy a explotar, a tragically romantic love story about two young runaways, filled with pop culture references. Miss Bala is darker, deeper and more haunting; for Laura, there is no escape. When she seeks help from a traffic cop in finding Suzu, she’s instead delivered into the hands of the criminals who shot up the club, and their very unglamorous leader, Lino (Noe Hernandez). Instead of killing her, he does something almost worse, forcing her to become a pawn and accomplice in his war with the government. In return, he will do what he can to help her win the beauty contest, except that too is little more than a set-up.

It’s a gripping story told in the style of a very un-Hollywood thriller, with the action and suspense stemming from a disturbingly realistic portrayal of violence. ‘I wanted to make a social film, but I wanted to put it in the frame of an action or suspense film, a thriller. I wanted it to have another layer of movie-making, so people weren’t put off by the idea of a “political” film,’ said Naranjo at an interview during the London Film Festival. ‘There was no practical reason for making this movie, but I had a social and moral obligation. It’s a very sad subject, it’s a dark thing, something we’re not proud of. There are some people who think that we shouldn’t make movies like this, that they’re promoting the problem. If we give the problem a face and identify what’s happening, there are other people who think it’s a very unpatriotic act. Obviously we don’t agree with that.’

In the film, the line between the police and the criminals is disturbingly blurred; corruption is ingrained, and the gangs act with shocking impunity. High-ranking officials are murdered, with one DEA agent’s body strung up from a bridge, dangling over passing traffic. Laura, out of fear for her own life and the safety of her family, has little choice but to do as Lino demands. ‘The criminals are the law,’ said Naranjo. ‘People in Mexico are living in fear. That was the origin of the film.’

Laura is very much at the centre of Miss Bala (which means ‘bullet’), the camera almost never leaving her. This was a very conscious decision by the filmmaker: ‘Other movies about crime in Mexico are all told from the criminal’s point of view, almost to justify their actions. I wanted to talk about the experience of the victim, someone who was alien to the criminal world. I saw the news about this beauty queen who was arrested with all these criminals, so we decided to explain how these two realities that are so distant can meet. I was also very upset about how the media portrayed the criminals, with the gold chains, the women, the orgies and the drugs, like it’s a constant party. When we researched we discovered it was nothing like that. The life of a criminal is much more pathetic, with a lot of fear and paranoia.’

Miss Bala is bleak but engrossing, mixing the political message with some excellent filmmaking and cinematography. In creating such a compelling picture, Naranjo and Stigman have drawn much needed attention to an ongoing tragedy - as the film reveals in its closing moments, more than 30,000 people have been killed in the drug war since 2006.

Sarah Cronin

Watch the trailer:

We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are

Format: Cinema

Release date:12 November 2010

Venues: Curzon Soho, Odeon Covent Garden, Screen on the Green, Vue Islington (London) and nationwide

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Jorge Michel Grau

Writer: Jorge Michel Grau

Original title: Somos lo que hay

Cast: Adrián Aguirre, Miriam Balderas, Francisco Barreiro, Carmen Beato

Mexico 2010

90 mins

When a middle-aged man drops dead in a shopping mall in urban Mexico, black blood exuding from his mouth, he leaves a terrible legacy. He has been the sole hunter for his wife and children who, like him, are cannibals. Jostling for position, they clumsily embark on the hunting for themselves. As we follow their exploits, Jorge Michel Grau’s debut feature is pulled in several directions; unearthly characters create subtle tensions that are cut through by caricatured cops and avenging prostitutes, Guillermo del Toro rubbing shoulders with Pedro Almodóvar. Some of the hunt scenes jolt along to a jazz soundtrack creating a West Side Story-ish fragmented hysteria, done so well in, say, Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris. Grau stitches together a Frankenstein’s monster of styles.

The family home is an artful, Gothic offering with dingy lighting and clutter that points to an obsession with time and repetition: a tin of strange ribbons incessantly counted by mother and hundreds of ticking clocks left by the departed horologist father. The uncanny continues with a soundscape that is full of intricacies that merge the everyday with the grotesque, such as the exaggerated sound of Mum’s (Carmen Beato) shoes clomping begrudgingly and curtly up the staircase. She is the one in the end who batters the human prey with matter-of-fact precision, and her deadpan performance evokes black comedy to add to the plethora of Grau’s styles.

The actual ‘rito’, the ritual dismembering, takes place on the family dining table surrounded by candlelit plastic crime-scene sheets: mother and daughter carve. The family are trapped in the cycle of performing these killings but it’s unclear whether this is fuelled by psychotic delusion or by a supernatural curse, where they will physically perish if they don’t eat human flesh. Their cult logic resurrects the Aztec obsession with carrying out protective sacrifice on a mass scale in order to ensure prosperity, and so Grau brings anxiety about literally putting ‘meat on the table’ into the here and now. Indeed the sacrificial victims are duped and lured in sites of poverty, trade and expenditure all elegantly picked out with lush cinematography and shallow depth of field; a traders market, a kerb-crawling zone, a flyover inhabited by vagrant children. The ‘dog eat dog world’ socio-economic metaphor here is heavy-handed.

Grau gets even more mileage out of the symbolic meaning of cannibalism as it also points to the psychic brutality families can inflict on each other. The exploration of these family dynamics is the strength of the film, take or leave the cannibalism. The father’s death is a catalyst for the eruption of drives that have been kept under wraps. As the family claim their victims their sexual orientations are revealed and these individual vignettes are sensitively played out, but teenage torment vies with the necessity of providing dinner for the family. The Bildungsroman elements of the film are the most moving and worthy of development and while the horror milieu is beautifully rendered, the social commentary comes with its own spoon.

Nicola Woodham

The Vice Guide to Film: Mexican Narco Cinema

The Vice Guide to Narco Cinema

Format: Internet streaming

Website: VBS TV

Episode:The Vice Guide to Film: Mexican Narco Cinema

Reading Vice magazine, you get the impression of intelligent writers having to use their skills for an audience to which they do not necessarily belong, sort of like a Daily Mail or Sun for pretentious hipsters (at least, this reviewer does). With shabby-but-articulate Vice co-founder Shane Smith’s casual profession of a love of drugs just a few seconds into The Vice Guide to Film: Mexican Narco Cinema, it seems like Vice‘s new web series is going to be more of the same, which is why it’s such a pleasant surprise when it quickly turns into a well-made, entertaining and easily consumed piece of film journalism.

Smith travels from Texas to Tijuana, on the way doing a great job of putting Mexico’s ultra-violent Narco Cinema of drug runners, fetishised cars and bad cops in context. He outlines the importance of Mexico’s drug industry to its economy and then interviews a film commissioner, who reveals that only 18% of the population can afford to go to the cinema. It’s no wonder then that these straight-to-DVD (the genre is also known as ‘Videohome’), low-budget action movies about poor Mexicans who use drug-running as a way to lift themselves out of poverty and give back to the community have become so popular, both in Mexico and with immigrants in the US. Think Scarface, but without the tragic fall. Or at least, if the characters do get shot at the end, there’s always a family member to take revenge in the sequel.

Each film is based on a ballad (corrido) about a famous criminal, which makes the whole genre reminiscent of the way the Robin Hood legend got started with the troubadours of Europe. However, in this instance both song and movie are almost always commissioned by the narco in question, with serious consequences for not sticking to the agreed script. So of course everyone Smith interviews speaks of the narcos in heroic terms and the genre singularly fails to hold a mirror up to Mexican society. To his credit, Smith has a go at highlighting this irony, interspersing clips of Narco Cinema with shots of real-world victims caught in the crossfire between the narcos and the government forces trying to crack down on them.

The overall message though is that these innovative, $40,000-50,000 films, which are shot on location, with the script written on the fly, where more often than not each character type is played by their real-world counterpart (the prostitute is a an actual prostitute, etc.), are a lot of fun and it doesn’t really matter which of them you watch, so long as there’s a car in the title. On this point The Vice Guide to Film: Mexican Narco Cinema is pretty convincing, although one criticism would be that as there are thousands of these films in existence surely there must be some canonical highlights for newcomers interested in exploring the genre?

Alexander Pashby

The lastest episode of the Vice Guide to Film is Inside Iranian Cinema. In this episode, Shane Smith travels to Iran for the 3rd Annual Urban Film Festival in Tehran where he meets Iran’s top directors, actors, and clerics.