Review by Jonathan Chauser
Has it ever cross your inebriated mind that your credit card might not be safe behind the bar, when you are asked; “Wanna run a tab?” Well in the opening moments of the new independent drama, “Hostile Border” we watch as the sexy and sullen, Veronica Sixto runs a credit card kiping scam involving most of the bartenders in the L.A. area. When Sixto’s character, “Claudia” pushes her luck and hits up one last club, she gets nailed by the fuzz and deported to Mexico.
Now the fact that she was a first timer and all the punishment she received was probation and a swift kick out of the country may make many of you yearn for the 2016 election to be over and Donald Trump branded the victor. But, as much of a slap on the wrist as this seems, Claudia is what is known to ethnic Mexican’s as a “Pocha.” Not only is this the alternate international title of the film, but it is a pretty cutting insult. “Pocho or the feminine, Pocha literally translates to rotten fruit, but the slang meaning is a Mexican, born in the US that neither speaks nor understands Spanish.
This is where the film should start to get interesting. “How is she to survive?” Well this is actually where I explain how I arrive at the title of this review; A little less sizzle and more steak, please! Although every frame of this indie is filmed beautifully and competent on every technical level, it lacks the heart and soul that this firebrand of a story should merit. First off, Claudia is a tough and beautiful woman, showing the requisite fear and uncertainty as she is held in a jail cell by Customs and Border Protection. But, once she is booted back over the fence as it were, she shows more irritation than fear.
That along with the extreme minimum of dialogue makes for a slow experience. Veronica Sixto is a promising actress, she has these large, expressive brown eyes that do a lot of the acting for her. But, the script in my opinion could have used more life and spoken communication. Once Claudia makes her way, too easily for my taste, to her estranged father’s ranch she spends an unknown amount of time sulking in her room and painting her nails. Again, ‘Papa’ is another mute. He spends most of his screen time huffing and puffing and trying to ignore his criminal offspring. The only way we understand that there is or was a bond between father and daughter, is through the Mexican grandmother whom does not speak English.
‘Abeulita’ serves essentially as the conduit for the audience. She explains that there is a rift between them; all of this subtitled. This becomes a tad tedious, reading all of the exposition at the bottom of the screen. Even with that there are still many unanswered question. Once Claudia figures she can’t sulk her way out of the situation she leaves the house and starts her penance. This is supposed to be working her fathers land for what she is shocked to learn is $10 a day! If not for the handsome, “Arturo” she would have spent the rest of the film in her bedroom.
Arturo played by Jorge A. Jimenez of little note to US audiences, takes Claudia under his wing and teaches her the ropes. While doing so, the two are ambushed at the far fence line of her father’s property. Now enters the ‘baddy’ of the story. “Ricky” is the suave and cultured smuggler that has come to teach his soon-to-be former employee, Arturo a lesson in loyalty.
Now here is another place where the narrative weakens considerably for me. “Pocha” is in a totally foreign land to her, on an expansive property that she has no knowledge of and the bad guys have shown up in force threatening to kill her and her new friend. After a laughable tete-a-tete between Ricky and Arturo on his knees, Ricky and his henchman turn their attention and pistol to Pocha. Instead of showing palpable fear for her life, she seems put out. It is almost as if she must wait in line for the women’s restroom at one of her L.A. clubs, rather than beg for her life in a far away Mexican field.
The film is still a bit to slow and workmanlike at this stage. The coloring and cinematography are wonderful. When Claudia was in the seedy and cold underbelly of Los Angeles, the colors were blues and grays and when she becomes Pocha in Mexico, the colors are much more saturated and warm. The sound and lighting is spot on. There is nothing to distract from this narrative other than, the fact that it’s too thin. I don’t know what the budget was for this piece, but I can hazard a guess that they would have liked more. With a lack of money, one usually makes up with story and dialogue.
The story picks up in the second act where we are privy to Pocha and Ricky’s uneasy partnership. The film shows that she is attracted to the easy money and danger he brings and this I guess is what lures her into a clunky sexual relationship with him. The sex scenes in my opinion were unnecessary. Veronica Sixto is a sexy woman and I am sure the filmmakers thought that some of they’re target demo would like to see her in various states of undress, but to my eye it seems to muddy the already thin narrative. The sex scenes felt crow-barred in rather than organic.
And finally the action finale was convoluted and hard to follow. I wanted to enjoy this film much more than I ended up doing. I am a low budget independent filmmaker myself and like this type of story. I find myself fascinated by the dark side of everyday life. I love stories of fractured families and who doesn’t like an attractive lead. But again, if the filmmakers would have spent more time on the script and it’s implementation and less time procuring top-of-the-line cameras and crafting neo-noir lighting, “Hostile Border” would have a film not to miss.
HOSTILE BORDER debuts in theaters, on Demand and Digital April 15, before arriving on DVD May 3 from Samuel Goldwyn Films & Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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