CULTURE SHOCK is the latest film from director Gigi Saul Guerrero and centers around a young Mexican woman who, in pursuit of the American Dream, finds herself smack in the middle of an American nightmare. The film stars Martha Higareda (Altered Carbon, No Maches Frida), Richard Cabral (Mayans MC, American Crime), Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), and Creed Bratton (The Office).
The film opens with a rather accurate depiction of the state of the world, with a FOX-inspired co-host on television discussing the dangers of illegal “terrorists” coming over into the States from Mexico. Shortly after this, we meet Marisol and her boyfriend Oscar who are preparing to leave Mexico for America by illegally crossing the border; however, not all goes as planned after an act of sexual assault that results in Marisol being left behind. Fast-forward to the present where we learn that Marisol is now pregnant and dedicated to her continued quest to cross the border. She links up with a Coyote in hopes that he will bring her across, but when the Cartel shows up, Marisol ends up passing out only to awaken some time later in a beautiful house with a kind woman standing over her. Confused, but grateful to be alive, Marisol begins to suspect that the beautiful town of Cape Joy, home to immigrants who have crossed the border, isn’t all that it seems. As she begins to investigate further she uncovers a shocking secret much more terrifying than she could have ever imagined.
There’s nothing I love more than when a director blatantly shines a light on problematic aspects of the world. In CULTURE SHOCK, director Gigi Saul Guerrero does just that by showcasing the struggles and horrors that Mexican immigrants face in crossing the border to America in hopes of a better life. CULTURE SHOCK couldn’t have come at a better time considering all the political nonsense that Trump is spewing but it’s also elevating the struggles women encounter from men on a daily basis. What Guerrero has created with this film is a harrowing look into a world that most people will never experience, giving the viewer a chance to better understand what goes on in the world outside the comfort of their own home. Though the film mainly focuses on the political discourse of immigration, there are subtle, and not so subtle, moments that highlight the struggles that women face. I think it’s important for those reading this to know that there is a scene that shows rape and another one that shows attempted rape. Both are difficult to watch but I think important to show as a reminder of what women face all around the world. However, there is also a scene when our main character Marisol makes it to Cape Joy and we see gender norms played out through the clothing of the town inhabitants. Men are shown wearing pants while women are shown wearing only skirts and dresses. Subtle moments such as this remind us that these types of ideologies are still prevalent in today’s society.
It’s imperative that I mention the acting in the film because the talent showcased is superb. First and foremost Mexican actress Martha Higareda, who plays Marisol, is astonishing. She embodies strength and determination in the face of bigotry and discrimination while fighting for her and her baby’s survival, no matter the cost. Marisol is a powerful character and Higareda took it on and more than delivered in her performance. Her male counterpart Santo, played by Mexican-American actor Richard Cabral, is tough-as-nails and intimidating but also shows a more restrained side throughout the film. Cabral’s performance is memorable because of his ability to play two sides of the coin while also showing his vulnerabilities when the time comes. Shawn Ashmore plays Thomas, the mayor of Cape Joy. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Thomas welcomes Marisol with open arms. Ashmore easily combines his charm and sincerity to the character which helps in showing the audience how much Thomas cares and wants to help the people of his town. Barbara Crampton plays Betty, one of the townsfolk that helps Thomas welcome the new immigrants into the town, and is one of the more terrifying characters in the film. She’s sugary sweet and super accommodating… to a point. Barbara does a phenomenal job in riding that fine line between being trustworthy yet off-balanced, resulting in a character that left me incredibly unsettled.
As for the horror, Guerrero shows that through the lens of humanity. There are no supernatural elements in this film, however, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t enough unsettling imagery and atrocious actions from some of the characters to leave you feeling disturbed. As much as I love a good scary movie, there is something to be said about a film such as CULTURE SHOCK and the terrifying realism that it portrays. There are many aspects of this film that I loved but one of my favorite moments was the twist. I don’t want to give too much away but how everything ends up being explained is done brilliantly and in such a unique way which is a testament to the writing of Guerrero, James Benson and Efrén Hernández. The writing is one of the strongest parts of the film, allowing for not only an emotional story that’s rich in its cultural significance but also a well-rounded feature which results in a satisfying, albeit violent, ending.
In all, CULTURE SHOCK was my favorite film from the Cinepocalypse Film Festival. It’s an absolute must-see thriller that may be polarizing to some, even though those people, in particular, are the ones who need to see it the most. It’s relevant in today’s political climate and shows a much-needed view of Americans and the horrific ways in which they treat outsiders. Furthermore, to have a female Mexican director be the one responsible for bringing this film to life was something that was much needed as she was able to poignantly showcase the oppression that women face in both Mexico and America. All that said, it’s apparent that Gigi Saul Guerrero loves her home country and is passionate about bringing the stories of the Mexican people to life through film. Guerrero possesses a natural talent for what she does and I can’t wait to see what she creates next. This July 4, let freedom ring when CULTURE SHOCK arrives on Hulu. For more information about the film, check out Kamarra’s set visit here.