By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
One of the downsides of being a fan of the Cannes Film Festival is that you never know when you’ll get to see the films that play there- especially the foreign language offerings. It’s not uncommon at all for a film to get a U.S. release even two years after it bows there (last year’s Oscar-nominated The Hunt played Cannes 2012).
Heli is one such film- winning Best Director at Cannes almost a year and a half ago, but just now getting its U.S. debut. It’s about a Mexican family who fall victim to cartel violence when one of their members makes one dumb decision.
… it’s living in a Mexican bordertown, isn’t it
Director Amat Escalante certainly delivers a good-looking film with Heli, as it’s full of beautiful compositions and camerawork. This is just about essential due to the oppressive nature of the plot, which hammers home the message “Don’t fuck with the cartels, son!” Likewise, brief, almost Jared Hess-style comic touches feel like gulps of fresh water in a desert.
Pedro’s backstory is daark.
What hits home most about this film, though, is the pure banality of the evil it contains. The shacks of the cartel hitmen look like all the other shacks, except they can afford an Xbox and Kinect. Their little brothers and/or cousins dispassionately watch as they torture their victims, perhaps even bored by it all. Soon they will be doing the same. This is true horror- perhaps the scariest thing you will see on screen this year.
It’s not often that I say this, but Heli is too dark. My wife and I needed an immediately palette cleanser, and she’s from South Korea, where even romcoms feature a serial murderer or two.
As romcoms go, I Saw the Devil‘s not too bad.
What really holds this film back is its pace. It masterfully builds dread up until an inevitable climax, then slams to a halt. Then another 40 minutes happen.
It’s those 40 minutes I take exception to. They are thematically rich in examining masculinity and self image colliding with a loss of control even with their glacial pace, but they really shouldn’t exist at all.
(SPOILERS) What possible reason did the cartel toughs have for letting Heli go? Even if he didn’t steal their drugs, he did destroy them, and as we see in the end, their inexplicable leniency comes back to bite them. Shit, they don’t even wear masks around him or blindfold him.
Heli is an unflinching, horrifying look at life in the cartel-run Mexican borderlands. You’ll need a few drinks to get through hit.
Take a Drink: for brutality of any sort
Take a Drink: for blue balls (for either sex)
Take a Drink: Nooooooooo! (You’ll know when)
Do a Shot: whenever somebody does something so stupid you want to scream