Fantastic Fest ’10 – Undocumented Review


Murderous militants molest mojados

There are few movies that have affected me on such a visceral level as Chris Peckover’s Undocumented. A relatively simple tale when it comes to plot, Peckover’s final product is anything but simple. It’s brutal, provocative and could very well be one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in the last five years.

Scott Mechlowicz, Alona Tal, Greg Serano and Kevin Weisman star as a group of grad students working on a documentary about the plight of the undocumented Mexican immigrant. Joining a group of border crossers as they attempt to sneak into America, the students’ film goes south (pun, unfortunately, intended) when the group of immigrants and the students are captured by a militant group of “patriots” who have taken it upon themselves to defend the border.

Undocumented is, in many ways, a version of the same Texas Chainsaw Massacre-inspired “torture-porn” film that has risen in popularity in recent years thanks to the success of Saw and Hostel. What separates Undocumented from the rest of the pack, though, is its completely engaging villain: Z, played by the legendary Peter Stormare.

Not enough can be said about Stormare’s character to do it justice. Every ounce of his delivery oozes with instability and barely restrained rage. The filmmakers chose an interesting direction when casting Stormare, an immigrant himself, in the role of an extremely racist patriot. It works beyond belief, though. The audience will at no time doubt the bile that spews from Stormare’s mouth. It makes me quite uneager to meet the actor no matter how much I respect him.

For most of the film, Stormare acts beneath a disguise as his face is obscured by a mesh mask. Even without the use of facial expressions, Stormare manages to inhabit his character with deep pathos and borderline sympathy. That’s not to say that the film in anyway portrays Z and his group of border-defending sadists in anything resembling a positive light. These psychopaths are villains through and through.

From the moment the gang takes control of the van that is smuggling in the group of mojados to the resulting wave of terror that follows, the minutemen border defenders are just as much monsters as any cannibal, serial killer or possessed doll you’re likely to see in a horror movie.

They passively dehumanize the Mexican immigrants; treating them like dogs or worse. All the while, the group of college students is made to document the proceedings. Z sees this as his chance to make his very own recruitment video. As the college students battle with their growing horror, they must balance their desire to live (which means following Z’s orders) with their hope to rescue the Mexican captives from their eventual bloody doom.

To complicate matters, the film’s cameraman (Greg Serano) has his family pulled into the carnage — his cousin (played by Yancey Arias) was one of the Mexican immigrants captured. Undocumented partially uses a found footage technique — mixing perspectives from the footage being shot for the documentary with traditional non-Cinéma vérité filmmaking.

Somewhat due to the partial found footage nature of the film, Undocumented falters a bit in the beginning, before the film takes off with the main thrust of its plot. The college students come off as unpleasant and unlikable during their interactions with their interview subjects and each other in the moments before the film really begins to take off. All that hesitation goes out the window, though, as soon as the students are captured. The terror presented in Undocumented is so intense, so searing that audiences will have no problem rooting for the safety of the film’s heroes, no matter how unlikable they may have once been. The film’s actors all deftly convey the fear and exhaustion that grows with each passing day. Specifically outstanding are the group of actors who portray the Mexican immigrants.

Earlier this summer, Machete was released in theaters and tried to bring light to the Mexican immigration issue. While Robert Rodriguez’s film is essentially a cartoon, Undocumented, while not super realistic, takes more of a gritty look at the issue. Undocumented has quite a few extremely brutal scenes that will have audiences flinching. More so, the majority of its most violent scenes are either off-screen or obscured — letting the audience fill in the details with their own fear.

Undocumented is, in my opinion, the first true inheritor of the legacy of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Whether you’re a horror enthusiast or just interested in the immigrant issue — Undocumented will have you at the edge of your seat and leave you haunted. The film isn’t out to change any minds one way or another on the subject of illegal immigration. It has only one purpose — to scare the everloving crap out of you.

Director: Chris Peckover
Notable Cast: Scott Mechlowicz, Alona Tal, Greg Serano, Kevin Weisman, Yancey Arias, Noah Segan, Peter Stormare
Writers: Chris Peckover and Joe Peterson

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