Friday 23 March 2012

Review : Undocumented (2010)


Chris Peckover

UNDOCUMENTED tell the pitch black tale of a group of American student film-makers who travel to Mexico in order to produce a documentary that details the plight of illegal immigrants, including a fly-on-the-wall look at the actual border crossing itself. As the group of students and a busload of Mexicans make their way into the Us, however, they are captured and detained by a militant extremist group from America, who have taken it upon themselves to rid the country of the 'scourge of immigration'. When they learn that six of the captives are American, and making a documentary, the decide that the kids will document their story, and deliver their message to the world, or suffer the consequences.

First time Writer/Director, Chris Peckover has crafted a debut film that really does impress. It seems to have gotten lost among the myriad torture porn bullshit that the genre has been flooded in, in recent years, but it's much more than just another HOSTEL rip-off. Actually, its far, far better than HOSTEL could ever hope to be, and has a great deal more intelligence and darkness to boot.

UNDOCUMENTED takes the whole concept of found footage movies in an entirely different direction. There is much shaky-cam and night-vision here, but there is also a great deal of traditional film-making on display. The fact the villains of the piece, (more on them later), are demanding to be filmed brings a new take on the material. This is less, 'found footage', than it is, 'forced footage'. Its a very stylish film from a shooting standpoint, as we switch constantly from in-camera shots to wide shots, directorial flourishes and fade-in/outs. It feels like this could really happen. Not only in terms of cinematic realism, but in terms of actually happening.

As a look at illegal immigration, the film does a wonderful job of setting up its central conceit. We spend enough time in the company of these desperate people to be able to fully relate to their situation. Have we all crossed borders illegally? Of course not, but we do all wish for the best of life, for ourselves and for our loved ones. Its easy to find empathy for the journey these people undergo.

The writing here is very smart too. We don't get a great deal of background on any character, and so in some ways they can seem one dimensional, but the fact that the focus is on the situation itself, is what garners our sympathy, hope and fear. Seeing the simple act of a father comforting his child during such frightening circumstances, speaks volumes, and really does hit hard. It matters not that we're unaware of his history. He's simply a father trying to protect and do whats best for his daughter, and that in itself is as recognisable to the human heart as anything I can think of. As we follow these folks from hope and happiness, through tension and doubt and into outright terror and despair, we feel every blow, emotionally and physically. This is not an easy watch.

Early scenes detailing the crossing of the border are tense enough, yet when things quickly go from bad to hellish, the film drags us into a pit of hopelessness that few horror films of recent times have achieved. Theres a sense of anger in the way UNDOCUMENTED is put together as a piece, and a sense of determination by all involved to stick to their guns and not shy away from the intent. All the actors do their jobs with complete conviction, the violence is very hard-hitting, and the message is as depressing as it is thought provoking. This is horror.

Whereas a film like SAW or HOSTEL, (and I do enjoy those films), go for the gore, and use the pretence of having a socio-political message behind them; UNDOCUMENTED heads in the opposite direction. It has a strong, and well developed message, and uses its violence to punctuate the areas it hopes to illuminate. That there is no easy answer to the questions it poses makes it all the more terrifying. We've all seen backwoods redneck movies, but how about one where the redneck aren't backwoods, and are, in fact, as smart and organised as they are intolerant and hateful? The fact that the villains here are very recognisable to people from all nations really does help sell the idea that we are one step away from this behaviour in our own societies. Scary, thought provoking stuff.

Between scenes of torment and tribulation for the captive immigrants, we're treated, (a poor choice of words), to a number of scenes of dialogue that explain the motivations behind our group of racist, wrapped-in-the-flag captors, and it all makes for vividly disturbing viewing. These motivations are expressed, mostly, by the group leader, a formidable, unnamed and utterly terrifying 'angry american' played by the ever scary Peter Stormare. We never see his face, but the character himself is a canvas for the ideas shared, unfortunately, by so many around the world. Few would go to the extremes he goes to, but its easy to project your own experiences and encounters with these types of 'people' onto the darkness of his mask. On the other side, the American students are far removed from the usual dipshits we see in these films, and are compassionate, smart and decent young people, who are horrified to be a part of this nightmare. All the parts are cast very well, and while the very early scenes will have you assuming these kids are your usual cliches, you soon come to realise that they really represent you and me, ( I hope). Those of us who are tolerant, and understanding. Which makes it all the more sickening, as you witness what they witness, (and it really does go down into the darkness). The only downside is that a few characters fates are a little confused, or at least appeared to be on first viewing. What we do witness though is harsh, disgusting and tragic.

UNDOCUMENTED is a very hard watch. It has scenes that will stick with you, stubbornly, long after the film has ended. As a socio-political piece, it's the best I've seen since the equally intelligent TERRITORIES. As a horror movie, its a visceral, gut-wrenching experience almost from the get-go, and as a thriller, its final act is bristling with energy, tension and fear. Don't expect to enjoy yourself with this one, but if you can stomach some realistic, unflinching and heartbreaking horror, look no further. Also, it ends with a long shot and a monologue that is among the most chilling conclusions Ive seen to a movie in a long, long time. UNDOCUMENTED deserves a much wider audience than its so far received, and that means YOU!

9 Human Scarecrows out of 10


  1. sounds like a "message movie" I can definitely watch! Awesome find, mate!

    1. I think you'll find this one worthwhile. Its a strong film that may have been overlooked due to its subject matter. It should have been in theatres, but seems to have dissapeared into obscurity. Well worth finding. Enjoy, brother!

  2. I keep seeing the previews of this, and have debated about whether to grab a copy or not. This just might have made my mind up