I am not a particularly political person. I don’t have any reasons as to why that is, it just that politics never concerned me. While that might make me a poor citizen, I enjoy swimming in own head far too much to be bothered with that business. I do enjoy, and understand politics in films and I am not ignorant to the messages being portrayed. Like this week’s release of The Ides of March only interests me because of the quality of actors as opposed to the messages behind it. Political films can also become preachy, and when anything gets too preachy, I run the other way. I can pick up on subtext; I don’t like being hit over head with what the director/writer thinks (I say this after my own preachy rant, I’m a parody of myself). With that being said, Undocumented is political, but it doesn’t try to prove anything to you that you don’t already know about our lovely human race (snicker). Undocumented is a straight up horrific experience, whose backdrop is politically driven but done tastefully so. I was disgusted by Undocumented (in a good way), and was glad to be alive when the viewing experience was over.
Undocumented is about a group of American graduate school students who are creating a documentary for their theses. The premise of their project is to film Hispanic people crossing the border illegally and sympathize with them as to why they do it. They interview some people intent on crossing the border to start a new American life, and then make the necessary financial preparations to achieve their goal. They pack into the back of a trailer, and on the way to their destination, they get pulled over. They are hijacked and taken to the HQ of a group of Patriots. For those of you who don’t know, Patriots are a group of radicals who patrol the borders illegally and kill anyone who come across it, they are evil vigilantes (more or less). Once the leader, named Z, knows that the Americans are filming a documentary, he forces them to film what goes on in the compound in order to get his message out. If they comply peacefully, they will be allowed to leave.
The filming technique is unique in Undocumented, and while it works for the majority of the film, it falters towards the end. The film starts off with a regular perspective, with different shots and cuts, so that it feels like a “movie.” When the group starts filming the exodus out of Mexico, the perspective switches to a documentary point-of-view where you only see what the students are filming and you don’t know what’s going outside of the group. At this point, Undocumented begins to use the tropes of a found-footage film. That is to say, there are jump scares, you never know what’s going on, and the perspective is from the protagonists. I really enjoyed the cinematography of Undocumented, that is until the end when the movie switches back suddenly to the “normal” way of filming. This switch took me out of the immersion that dominated the rest of the run-time. This was probably my biggest issue with the film, but hey, it’s still effective, even with that little hiccup.
Undocumented is a thematically dark film, one that is relentless in its violence towards the human race. The Patriots have their own sense of morals and believe every word of it. Their craziness is contextually normal in that compound, like it is their day jobs. One rather humorously offhanded scene has a Patriot walking the students through the compound, giving a tour. He is jovial, and makes it seem like this is the best place to work. I don’t remember the dialogue exactly, but he points to a guy at a computer terminal, and says, “That’s so-and-so, he does the computer stuff, say hi so-and-so.” It’s funny, and I started laughing, but felt weird to do so, because these guys, some of them, are personable. BUT THEY’RE NUTS! The leader called “Z,” is the masked Joker for the Patriots, who’s unpredictable and wants to watch the world burn, or make America watch it burn. The acting is not particularly well done in the film but Peter Stormare plays the part of Z to the best of his abilities.
Let me reiterate, Undocumented is a dark film. There are times when it feels like a realistic torture-porn film, where you are watching select characters get butchered slowly over time. I was cringing at the grisly and visceral nature of these scenes. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, but the film makes an impact on the viewer, whether that’s positive or negative depends on them. The political message is there, stating, who is really the enemy? I don’t feel that this is a purely political film; I think that the creators used the context to make it topical (that’s not criticism). Horror fans don’t need to shy away if they think that this film will try to tell them how to live, it’s just going to present you with plenty of images that will not leave your head.
I highly recommend this film to horror fans who can stomach a good deal of realistic and often, disturbing violence. I can’t give this film a perfect rating because like I said before, the camera business bothered me, and while well done, it’s not a film that is “entertaining.” Meaning, you probably won’t have a blast. It’s a rough take on the radicals (The Patriots) on our borders and the violent, self-righteous nature of man. I really liked it for its thought provoking themes, and the fact that I was happy to be alive when the credits rolled.