The horror genre gets a bad rap. Virtually all horror movies are dismissed out of hand when it comes to having something to say. Who can take a message out of all that blood and violence? Well when the world is bloody and violence, I say horror films are the perfect venue to tell some stories and in a graphic way. Undocumented, from first-timer Chris Peckover, uses the topical subject of illegal immigration in America as it’s setting.
Don’t run away! While there is obviously some politics at play here, the film doesn’t delve too far into the seriousness of the politics, but it does perhaps give you pause to think about the situation, at least some aspects of it.
The film follows a group of grad students making a film about illegal border crossings and those who take advantage of illegal labor. During a border crossing for their documentary, the group ends up getting kidnapped alongside the illegal immigrants by a violent border control group.
There are around eleven on-screen kills and one off-screen one. There are probably a few other people who wound up dead at the day’s end. In fact, we could assume anywhere between two and twenty-four additional deaths that we never see. Much of the killing and actual violence is off-screen, but there is a good amount of blood to be had.
As I was saying, while I think too many of the kills are only partially shown or off-screen, we do get to see some carnage. There are some gunshots, a head wound, a slit throat, a few vicious beatings, a dog bite, and various stabbings. There is a decent amount of blood and some of the gore bits are surprisingly graphic and good, while a handful are marred by obvious CGI blood. Why?
We see some people stripped down to their underwear, but it’s not sexy. What is sexy, though, is star Alona Tal who, if you’re reading, I will straight up marry you. You know, if you get divorced. Fingers crossed! Ahahaha, Happy Valentine’s Day! (Two days late)
There are several lessons to be learned here. Many movies have taught us that you should never smuggle drugs, this one adds people to that list (and still drugs). You also probably shouldn’t give your hostages guided tours and if you are a hostage, you might want to not always antagonize the violent assholes with guns, knives, and bats, who have shown no hesitation to violence and murder.
When I first noticed that ‘found footage’ type stuff was being implemented in the movie, I was dreading it. I am not a fan of that method of storytelling. Thankfully, it’s not overdone and a lot of the film is shot traditionally.
I had more concerns too – I was afraid the film was going to be an overly liberal jaunt pointing the middle finger at middle America. While the film flirts very briefly with that territory, it never dives into it and stays fairly apolitical.
My fears allayed, I dug the film a fair bit. It wasn’t perfect and I found myself getting a touch bored around 65 minutes in or so (the film runs around 95 minutes), but it regained steam. Our heroes aren’t the smartest of people, as when they’re held captive they don’t play by the rules, get punished, and then repeat the whole situation. I definitely wasn’t a fan of the CGI blood and wish more of the violence happened on screen.
All the negatives out of the way (save one, coming soon), the film is a good, darkly comedic trip. The villains have two sides: idiotic and awesome (kind of). Most of the crew, once they speak, come across kind of dumb and overly “hickish.” It’s almost cartoony, one guy treats a Mexican servant like a dog, teaching her tricks for apple wedges, while another’s speech about creating a better scarecrow is part goofy, part cool horror stuff.
The awesome comes in from Peter Stormare, whose voice I recognized immediately despite the fact he wears a mask almost the entirety of the film. His character is obviously a flawed and sadistic individual, but Stormare makes him almost charismatic and likable. Almost. He does fantastic work in the film.
Chris Peckover makes his feature debut with the film, which he also co-wrote, and there are some good visuals within. He’s one to watch.
One problem I did have the film is pretty spoilery – so turn back now if you want.
Okay. At one point in the film, our grad students try to make an escape only to find the outside of the compound is guarded by at least one vicious dog and seemingly surrounded by barbed wire. However, when the survivors make their final escape, they exit a door and it’s a wide open field with no dogs and no barbed wire. This could just be some back area they didn’t guard, which makes our otherwise very competent villains seem incompetent, especially considering they left a truck with the keys in it sitting there. Further, our hero, Travis (Scott Mechlowicz), has ample opportunity to ambush, execute, or otherwise kill almost every bad guy, but fails to do so, leading to what we know is their escape and can only assume leads to the execution of every single captive still in the compound, which probably means about twenty people. Some hero!
That small ending stumble aside, overall the film is well put together, interestingly shot, has a great performance from Peter Stormare, the beautiful Alona Tal in many shots, and has a novel and topical idea handled pretty well.