“Hostile Border” | Veronica Sixtos, Julio Cedillo, Roberto Urbina, Jorge A. Jimenez, Sandra Santiago, Jesse Garcia, María del Carmen Farias | Writer: Kaitlin McLaughlin | Directors: Kaitlin McLaughlin & Michael Dwyer
Hostile Border, the directorial debut of veteran cinematographer Michael Dwyer, focuses on Claudia, a shrewd criminal who is caught engaging in credit fraud. Due to her status as an undocumented resident, she’s swiftly deported to Mexico despite having no association with her culture and an inability to speak the language. Border, awarded Best Fiction Film and Best Directing at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is a concise yet moving thriller that follows one woman’s journey through the pains of reality, and the discovery of self while making potentially fatal choices.
It’s evident Hostile Border was a labor of love for Kaitlin McLaughlin and Michael Dwyer. From a technical standpoint, the film is gorgeously shot, from the jump cuts of Claudia’s frenetic life to the quiet framing that empathizes the beauty of the Mexican landscape. Story-wise, Claudia lives a very insular, morally bankrupt life that’s devoid of emotional fulfillment. Nonetheless, the reason behind her actions are relatable in the sense that everyone does what they must to survive. The true test is how one chooses to make the best out of their talents, based on what the world presents before them.
Veronica Sixtos has a very nifty ability to convey a bevy of emotions in the most simplest scenes. From the first act involving Claudia and her mother (played by Sandra Santiago) going through the inner workings of their mini crime ring to the moment she’s detained and transported to the border, Sixtos fashions a character who possesses her doubts and fears until they can no longer be contained. Claudia is a woman who obviously hasn’t allowed anyone to see her true self for quite some time, if not ever. It is when she’s completely alone in a room filled with strangers that her guard is lowered and a terrified young woman is revealed.
Once deported to Mexico, it’s clear Claudia hasn’t any street smarts or any other discerning skills necessary to survive on her own. She eventually reunites with her father Andres (Julio Cesar Cedillo), a salt-of-the-earth character who believes in a honest day’s work and never seeks the easy way out of situations. Together with Claudia’s grandmother (Maria del Carmen Farias), Andres attempts some semblance of a bond with his wayward daughter while building up her self-pride and work ethic that his estranged wife never developed.
This change of pace doesn’t suit ‘Pocha’ (slang for a Mexican woman who doesn’t speak Spanish) who quickly finds an opt-out from her father’s ranch in the form of Ricky (“Narcos”’ Roberto Urbina), a drug runner who is equal parts charm and malice. Ricky hastily becomes Claudia’s promise of escape and a return to the only life she knows, however his sexual advances and subtle changes to their original agreement leave little to be desired. Urbina portrays the cardigan-wearing smuggler with an unabashed confidence; he hates being in Mexico as much as Claudia and he makes his antipathy known by casually dispatching those who no longer suit his plans. Neither Ricky or Claudia truly desire one another but stick together as a means to an end.
In her desperation, the family Claudia barely knows suffer from her selfish decisions and it culminates in tense confrontations between Andres and Ricky, as well as the local military. By the time Claudia recognizes the mess she’s created for herself, her family and others, it may be too late to turn the tide of violence that’ll soon be cresting over the valley.
Hostile Border = 8/10