Film Review: Hostile Border

This timely thriller doesn't achieve the required tension.
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Despite its title, Michael Dwyer's directorial debut is not a Donald Trump campaign film. Rather, it tells the story of Claudia (Veronica Sixtos), a 22-year-old undocumented Hispanic woman who is deported to her native Mexico after being arrested for credit card fraud; she's a "pocha" (the film's original title), which is slang for a Mexican-American who speaks little Spanish. Touching on hot button issues without wandering far from thriller territory, Hostile Border, an award-winner at the Los Angeles Film Festival, should be of particular interest to Hispanic audiences.

Not speaking the language and with nowhere else to go, Claudia is forced to take refuge at her father Andre's (Julio Cesar Cedillo, a strong screen presence) ranch. Although he doesn't exactly welcome his daughter home with open arms, the patriarch does provide her with a job fixing fences, for the princely sum of $10.

"$10 an hour?" she asks.  "A day," he replies with a self-satisfied smirk.

Claudia is offered support by her grandmother (María del Carmen Farias), who doesn't speak a word of English, and Arturo (Jorge A. Jimenez), a friendly ranch hand who takes her under his wing. But desperate to return to America, she begins an ill-advised affair with Ricky (Roberto Urbina), a drug dealer/smuggler who promises to fulfill her wish if she'll help him in one of his criminal schemes.

Despite its promising set-up, Hostile Border lacks narrative tension, with the screenplay by co-director Kaitlin McLaughlin never quite coming into dramatic focus. The characterizations feel sketchy, and the paucity of dialogue proves more frustrating than atmospheric.

The film registers more strongly on a technical level. It looks terrific, with director Dwyer, a veteran cinematographer, providing a warm visual sheen to the Mexican locations. John Kirby's tense musical score ratchets up the suspense level, and Sixtos is a strong, sultry presence, powerfully conveying her character's fierce determination as much with body language as speech.--The Hollywood Reporter

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