Review: The Wall of Mexico

Written and directed by Zachary Cotler and co-directed by Magdalena Zyzak, a wealthy Mexican-American family decides to build a wall around their ranch to stop townspeople from stealing their well water, which is rumoured to have unusual properties. Starring: Jackson Rathbone, Esai Morales, Marisol Sacramento, Carmela Zumbado, Alex Meneses and Moises Arias.

You can’t name a film ‘The Wall of Mexico’ without making it overtly clear that the contents that follow will be in some form or another a metaphor for elitism, anti-immigrant sentiment and class divides. So you can’t then be surprised that it does seem to be, at least in part if not majority, a driving force for this film, it hides its motives somewhat under an attempt at mystery and intrigue but as time goes on, its intentions become clearer. If you’re going into this film having read its mysterious synopsis and expecting big revelations and adventure then you might want pull those expectations back a bit because what you’re going to get is much simpler.

In the beginning, Cotler and Zyzak’s direction feels energetic, vibrant and youthful but it gradually starts to reveal itself as trying much to hard to appear stylish while actually throwing a bunch of ill-chosen, extra close shots at you. There’s no inherent issue with it, it’s not uncomfortable or irritating to watch but as the story fails to develop, it starts to feel like a distraction or band-aid to cover up a lack of progression or meaning to its plot. It isn’t helped by the choice to include a chapter like format to the film which is used all too sporadically and mixed with jarring editing, preventing it from having anything consequential to add. Starting out with this incredibly suspicious behaviour surrounding the family’s well with almost a myth like reputation of the properties its water has, there’s a nice amount of suspense built in but it doesn’t last long. What follows is a rather repetitive back and forth of the ranch hand, Don (Rathbone) and his desperate attempts to fit in with the daughters of the house Tania (Sacramento) and Ximena (Zumbado) which become increasingly pathetic as time passes. Unfortunately Don had started out as an interesting outsider perspective with which to view the story but as it begins to show more of the daughters, that’s entirely lost and any tension or suspense built up until that point, goes out the window with it.

There’s an inherent problem in showing these characters from the outset clearly as entitled, selfish and reckless young women, using either their sexuality or enriched education as weapons against others. All of which immediately sets them up as almost villains to the story, it in no way enables a sympathy for Don and his attempts to fit in with them, quite the opposite in willing him to keep his distance as no good can come of it. As soon as that focus shifts, the film loses all its power and becomes a running out the clock scenario, there’s nowhere left for it to go, it doesn’t really have much to say and if you’re waiting for some big reveal, it’s not coming. There are also a lot of unnecessary moments which give the film a strange tone, moving away from that youthful or even chaotic energy to something simply messy.

In spite of that, Zumbado who you may recognise from the latest season of Netflix’s You, gives quite a fascinating performance, creating Ximena as a cold and calculated yet complex character who every so often gives away a hint of warmth hiding below the surface. The rest of the cast are all solid performances but none that stand out, if anything does stand out it’s the lost potential of only including brief moments of Moises Arias, he’s quietly proven himself as a genuine asset to any film and his all too short performance here is a real shame. There’s a very vapid quality to the film, much like its incredibly wealthy family, for the briefest of moments it could remind you of A Bigger Splash from Luca Guadagnino but it doesn’t have the complexities to pull it off.

The Wall of Mexico is unfortunately extremely disappointing, in trying so hard to be clever it achieves the opposite and becomes overtly simple and empty. Its metaphors are transparent and its story has no inherent direction or tangible progression. The directorial style is trying far too hard to be stylish and ends up losing all the potential it had in the beginning. The only real spark is Zumbado’s performance which echoes how talented she is at bringing to life complex characters and hopefully there will be more of that in her future. At a certain point it becomes clear that this is a road to nowhere paved with entitlement and elitism, focusing far too much on the perspective of those hidden behind their wall. The only real sentiment that it will probably leave you with is, to quote Samara Weaving’s Grace in Ready or Not – fucking rich people.

Verdict: ✯½

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