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  • Rev Horror

Coyote Cage

Dir. Michael Perez (2023)

A group of immigrants trying to cross the US-Mexico border are caught between a coyote, the cartel, and a band of human traffickers.

Of all the genres in film, horror has always been the one most focused on social issues of the day. Romero's Night of the Living Dead inadvertently tackled racism, Rosemary's Baby took on misogyny and the dismissal of women's experiences, and James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein inserted veiled LGBT themes in a time where that was entirely unacceptable in mainstream society. In a world where a beer's spokesperson resulted in an entire segment of society changing longtime beverage preference and a group of athletes protesting racial injustice got people all across the South to boycott football, it's never been more important for artists of any form of media to critique the societal attitudes of modern day. There is perhaps no issue more at the forefront of differing political opinions in 2020's America than the southern border, and it's a talking point that could very well decide who will be the leader of the free world in the near future. Enter Coyote Cage, a movie that explores what the experience of immigrants seeking a better life actually entails, for good or ill.

A group of immigrants seeking to cross the border illegally hire a coyote named Guero (Michael L. McNulty) to lead them across safely, but along the way they run into a host of different issues. When cowboys seeking to get their thrills by endangering the lives of "invaders" shoot one of the group dead, they take to the wilderness to try to survive and slowly make their way to freedom. But there are more dangers in the desert than just rogue American military cosplayers, and the group of immigrants quickly runs afoul of the cartel... and worse.

The different stories and motivations of each of the travelers comes into focus throughout the film, as does the journey each of them have taken to get to where they currently are. The journey itself is hard enough, with more perils than you could imagine along the way, but one of the most impactful things about Coyote Cage is the exploration of why the people are running North to begin with, as well as the things they have had to do to even begin the process. Some are escaping violence, risking running across even more dangerous people during their journey, and they have given up everything they had (and had to do awful things along the way) to even have the opportunity to seek a better life. To imagine myself in that situation, to be willing to do literally anything to escape my circumstance and put myself in tremendous danger knowing that if I could somehow, some way actually pull it off, is something that I am blessed to never have to even consider in my own personal life.

But this is a real situation that real people must go through every single day in North America. Regardless of your personal political, social, or moral beliefs, this is a terrible, awful thing. The fact that anyone, of any race or background, has to make these life-or-death decisions and risk life and limb simply to enter a country, and that just by entering that country their lives become so much better even with the difficulties that come with it, is quite astounding. The desperation, the difficulty, the fear that these people experience is tragic. While I won't let myself get too political here, I will say that this part of the experience alone should elicit more than just a political talking point. This is hard, and it's something that shouldn't be the case. Wherever you put the blame, whether it's on America's own difficult immigration process or the crime and corruption south of the border, it's something that should never exist in the modern world. And yet, for hundreds of thousands of people every single year, it is simply reality.

Coyote Cage does a decent job of exploring these issues and concerns. It's a bit convoluted, and it certainly struggles at times to get its underlying message across while attempting to flesh out each of these characters and discuss their backstories and motivations. It moves fairly slowly, especially in the first two acts, but it does eventually get there. The actors do a phenomenal job, and they really help cover some of the indie sins committed to bring the story from point a to b, and the cinematography and direction are more than capable as well. It's a gorgeously shot film, giving the impression that the film had a much larger budget than it actually did. Technically, the film is incredibly well-done despite its flaws.

I do feel like the film could have been tightened a little, but it nevertheless works very well in conveying its message and in maintaining the audience's attention even when the plot is a bit lethargic at times. The realism of the events that occur on-screen, however, lends itself a bit to its slow start. The last half hour of the film is brutal and compelling, and well worth the patient required to get there. The characters stories are very good, and they help to portray the broad spectrum of people who actually go through these experiences on a daily basis. The hopelessness, my God... it really helps to put "first-world problems" into perspective, because I can't even imagine being in this scenario, and it's a reality for so many more people than it ever should be. While Coyote Cage does have its issues at times, anything that helps bring attention to this reality is well worth exploring. Thankfully, even when it struggles, they're mild in comparison to the high points and the impact of the overall film. If you get a chance to check this one out, you definitely should.

One final note about the film: I really appreciated how Coyote Cage discussed the various groups of people who go through this experience. To so many Americans, especially those who have no desire to think about the issue any deeper than voicing their uninformed opinions, the issue at the border comes down to "Mexicans want to cross the border illegally." In reality, however, the problem is so much deeper, more complicated, and wide-ranging than that. Coyote Cage does a good job of delving into that a little, even as far as the various countries and cultures these people come from. Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba... these are just a few of the countries that these people are attempting to escape. We would do well, as a society, to remember that just as the issues facing America are different from those facing Canada and Mexico, so different are those facing Mexico and Panama and El Salvador and Costa Rica and and and and and. Then again, for a country with a population that tends to think New Mexico is in a different country... I don't know that we can really expect them to have a more nuanced opinion than they already do.

Who this movie is for: Social horror fans, Hispanic horror lovers, Texans

Bottom line: Coyote Cage is a bit uneven and struggles at times to get going, but it's an important exploration of a very real experience that far too many people are subjected to in their very real lives. It's well done, looking far more expensive than it was, and the actors all do a fine job in their roles as desperate people and the people who force them into desperation. It's an intriguing plot, one that is well worth examining, and for that alone it's worth checking out. While it rarely dips its toes into the actual horror genre, it's nonetheless scary to imagine and has some surprisingly adept scenes of torture and gore... especially in that final act.

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