Set Visit: A Peek Into CULTURE SHOCK and the American Nightmare

There’s something very special about the way a movie can affect you. The way it crawls inside you and instantly makes you feel a certain way. There are many elements that create a perfect storm, to get you to that certain feeling. The costumes, locations, cinematography, casting, and music, all play their part. 

If you’re lucky enough to visit a set while this magic is happening, you get a glimpse behind the curtain and realize it’s even more magical than you could have ever imagined. 

I was lucky enough to witness magic being conjured up on the set of CULTURE SHOCK, and those moments left a mark on me that I will never forget. 

CULTURE SHOCK is the 10th episode in Hulu’s Into the Dark series. Each month we are treated to a delightfully gruesome tale that makes you cringe, hide behind the safety of a loved one’s shoulder, or think about what the real horrors hiding in plain sight. In CULTURE SHOCK, directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero, a young Mexican woman, searching for that American Dream, crosses into the United States illegally. She soon finds out that her American Dreams are a horrific nightmare. 

The lights are out as we crawl at a snail’s pace down the stairs in what feels to be an abandoned warehouse. We come to a stop only to be lead in the other direction, it’s a little disorienting. As we get closer to the set you start to feel a bit of panic, a bit of claustrophobia, and the mood of the scene starts to take root even before we stumble on to it. Dark, Gritty and Dirty, is the room we enter. It appears to be some sort of room for medical procedures. The dirty lights flicker and give the room an even more ominous feel. A woman name Martha Higareda enters speaking Spanish and there is an urgency behind what she’s saying. If you are unable to translate her words, it’s just fine because her body language, her cadence, the erratic way her eyes and hands move all translate in any language that something is terribly wrong. A momentary break from character and Gigi approaches, speaking to her cast and crew in Spanish. It’s a moment that would be repeated during the day, and one I’m sure may have just been overlooked, but for me, it was a moment that left an indelible mark on my soul. 

Director Gigi Saul Guerrero for CULTURE SHOCK

Let me break that moment down for you in hopes that you may get the tiniest idea of the feeling as it came over me. We are living in a time when men, women and children of all ages are trying to seek asylum in the United States. Men, women, and children are facing the horrors of Mother Nature, the cruelty of their fellow man and holding on to a small glimmer of hope, that this long and dangerous trek will result in taking a deep breath of freedom in a new land. We are living in a time where a female director with proud deep roots to her Mexican heritage, speaks to her crew in Spanish, about a story she felt needed to be told, and needed to be told in her way, in her native tongue and unapologetically. 

Let that wash over you. It was a powerful moment to watch and at that moment I knew I was witnessing real magic. 

I was lucky enough to speak with some of the cast about the experience of working on CULTURE SHOCK and as each of them generously gave their time, I was able to see exactly why each person was cast and my excitement grew to see the finished product. 

Shawn Ashmore is a gem, has an adorable family, and has some amazing ghost stories. It was a treat to listen to him speak candidly about his character and his love of horror. While speaking about his character Thomas, he says that he is a major part of the program that the government has been putting together to deal with people coming across the border. Thomas exists in two different worlds. In the world Thomas has helped create, he’s one person it, the idealized version of himself, the person he would like to be. And then there is the real world that we got a glimpse of below, in the basement, in the dark. The experience to him was topical, really well told and at the helm was Gigi guiding all of them safely into and out of the story. 

Shawn Ashmore in CULTURE SHOCK

Richard Cabral plays Santo and has this wonderful mood about him. He fills the space with just a look and then immediately smiles and you want to just give him a hug. He takes a moment away from shooting his scene to briefly talk about filming and being directed by Gigi. Having worked with women directors and writers in the past, he says having a woman give this really beautiful touch to the horror genre, which can be very masculine, was something that was really amazing to be a part of. As far as being directed in Spanish, he says that was a whole new thing for him. It was very special, to speak in the language of the culture that was being portrayed and also being able to speak and feel that connection when 98% of the crew speak Spanish. After reading the story, and automatically being drawn to the 4th of July theme and watching it turn, was what made him say I want to be a part of this. 

It’s her birthday, and with cake in one hand and lunch in the other Gigi, sits down smiling. She asks if we are ok and if we need anything to eat or drink, and then takes a bite of cake. There’s an air of wonder as we sit, I talk a lot about the magic on this set, and you can feel it as you sit with her. It’s in the way she speaks about her cast, the pride in her culture, her belief in loyalty to her Luchagore team. You want to bottle what’s she got and sip it slowly on a day when you need that little bit of extra encouragement. “It’s important to have people believe in you, and help you make things happen, this business is so intense and competitive if you connect with someone keep it because that how true magic comes about.” 

Martha Higareda in CULTURE SHOCK

Martha Higareda who plays Marisol walks over and is soft-spoken but there is a strength that shines behind her eyes, its calming and she instantly makes you feel as if you’ve known each other for years. She talks about how Gigi was very hands-on and helped her in her scenes. There were really emotional moments that required her to be in a certain headspace and Gigi was able to get her there and then guide her through those emotions. She says there was a comfort on set that really allowed her to dive deep into the characters and the world that had been created for them. 

As I sit and watch everyone on set I can feel the excitement bubbling just below the surface. Everyone here knows the magic that I’m talking about. They know that they are creating is a beautifully creative portrayal of an ugly world. As the cast heads back to set, I feel as if I’ve got a little of that magic on me now. It’s infectious. The excitement to see this in its finished form is overwhelming and as I leave, I look around at the beautiful Mexican extras speaking Spanish, smiling, and waiting to go back on set. I smile back and say Buenos Noches, to which they respond with the same. There is power in believing in an idea, there is strength in our words. CULTURE SHOCK is not to be missed this coming July 4.

Kamarra Cole
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