REVIEW: Hostile Border

Thanks to politics and the promise of walls that other countries will magically pay for, illegal immigration is a bit of a hot button topic lately. With that cultural tapestry in place, the newest film from director Michael Dwyer and writer Kaitlin McLaughlin, Hostile Border, makes an interesting choice; it ignores the hot button completely. While the premise seems ripe with possibility of political commentary, it makes the bolder choice; to focus on characters and not cultural issues.

The premise follows a young woman (Veronica Sixtos) who is in the U.S. illegally and taking part in some further illegal activities while she’s there. Eventually she is caught by the authorities and sent back to Mexico and her father, only to find even more illegal activities to get caught up in. That, in a nutshell, is what makes Hostile Border so interesting. It is about this girl’s choices and how they affect the people and environment around her. This is not a story of immigration or of the inequality of opportunities, it is a very personal and specific coming of age story.

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While this is refreshing and interesting choice for the film, it does suffer from a bit of aimlessness due to it. It could be argue that our protagonist’s growth is limited if any exists at all. This emotional meandering in the face of intentional political vagueness makes the film seem a little unfocused at times. While the story always remains compelling, it is a bit of a challenge to discern any thematic or narrative undertones here.

That is the weakness of the film, the strength is in the direction, art design, and acting performances. The look and the feel of the film is intensely realistic. Through the shot choices and the locations you feel the desperation and aimlessness of the characters. When that skill is combined with the obvious skill of the cast you have a pretty darn immersive and compelling piece of filmmaking. What it may lack in focus, it makes up for in intensity and emotion.

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Especially on display here is the fantastic performance of Veronica Sixtos. One can’t help but roll your eyes when a performance is described as “brave”, but her turn as our protagonist is arguably just that. Walking the line of vulnerability, toughness, and angsty fear in each scene, Sixtos carries the film through its rougher patches of structure and brings the audience with her.

So, in the end, Hostile Border has very little interest in exploring the border of its title. It mostly ignores the desperation of illegal immigration and deals with personal desperation instead. While that can lead to a bit of meandering and some narrative aggravation, the cast and the filmmakers manage to keep the story compelling enough to make this film feel like a success.

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