Written and Directed by Jesse Harris.
Starring Lucy Hale, Nicholas Gonzalez, Leynar Gomez, Jorge A. Jimenez, and Olivia Trujillo.
Borrego follows a young botanist who relocates to a small desert town to study an invasive plant species. She must fight for her survival when she’s kidnapped by an inexperienced drug mule after his ultralight plane crashes in the desert.
Borrego is a contender for both the most racist and dumbest film of 2022. No, it’s not because Seattle-born writer and director Jesse Harris has opted to make a San Diego border story about Mexican drug runners. It has more to do with the fact that botanist Elly (Lucy Hale) is depicted as a horror movie victim after getting entangled with a fentanyl smuggler following his plane crash landing in the desert where she is researching a plant that’s not supposed to be there (yes, the metaphor game is that on-the-nose).
The situation these two characters find themselves in is not necessarily a problem, as Tomas (Leynar Gomez) is stranded and could use a human compass, but the script’s way of making that happen involves force and tying hands. In other words, the Mexican guy (who we know is not a bad person, has his reasons, and will eventually bond with this woman anyway) is framed as evil by design, encouraging viewers to treat the white woman as the sympathetic, morally pure protagonist. It’s awkward, offputting, and tanks what is otherwise an intriguing premise for these two characters.
These matters are not helped by introducing a generic villain angry the drop has not been made, turning to a killing spree across the border hoping to find Tomas and retrieve the drugs. It’s all one-dimensional with so little thought put into the character that, I shit you not, he inadvertently kills himself during the climax in a hilarious sequence, truly cementing how dumb Borrego is. That’s without getting into the cringe white savior elements, either.
Elsewhere, a sheriff named José (Nicholas Gonzalez) deals with incoming calls regarding these ongoing developments (he is understaffed, but technically the murders fall under his jurisdiction) while functioning as an overbearing parent toward teenage daughter Alex (Olivia Trujillo), who lives life a bit recklessly riding motorcycles without helmets. The day before Elly’s disappearance (which is noted by a professor she was supposed to meet the following day), Alex skipped school to hang around and do some research, with the two swapping a few family stories. The squabbling between father and daughter as the latter wants to help out with law enforcement duties and find her new missing friend is slightly more engaging than the forced journey of smuggling drugs, but it also shouldn’t be.
Borrego opens with choice pieces of information about how addicting prescription drugs have become and the smuggling of fentanyl but proceeds into a story that addresses none of it with provocation or contemplation. Again, it quickly turns into a routine thriller where the number one priority for viewers is hoping the white woman survives.
Some of this might sound harsh, but it’s for a good reason. There’s also an extra sense of frustration since, from a directorial standpoint, Borrego occasionally has striking cinematography. The film uses various ledges, cliffs, and mountains for good photography effect, including some verticality inside the shootouts. There are also some sequences involving flares that demonstrate a modicum of skill. Lucy Hale and Leynar Gomez also try to make the most of the material. There’s just too much here that rubs the wrong way with a final shot that reinforces what we already knew; the movie only gives a shit about the white woman, not fentanyl or Mexican drug smuggling.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com