★ / ★★★★
A group of graduate students (Scott Mechlowicz, Alona Tal, Greg Serano, Kevin Weisman) go to Mexico to shoot a documentary about illegal immigration. Contacting and paying off the right people, they foolishly sneak into the United States with undocumented Mexicans who hope to create a better life in America. Everything starts to go terribly wrong when their truck is intercepted by radicals, led by Z (Peter Stormare), utterly delusional in their attempt to keep the country free of “illegals.” The captives are then taken into an isolated compound where illegal immigrants are tortured until they die. Meanwhile, the young and hapless American students are forced to record every bit of sadism.
“Undocumented,” written by Chris Peckover and Joe Peterson, is humiliating to sit through, a testament on how difficult it really is to pull off violence and horror with social commentary. I wanted to like the students because they really do mean to shed light on the plight of Mexicans crossing the border. However, we get the sense that they have no idea what they are doing right from the beginning. If they are not intelligent enough, what is there to excite us or keep us interested in their journey?
In the first scene, the characters appear as though they are going on Spring Break in Cancun. There is a lack of an aura of seriousness in the van so we get the impression that they consider their thesis to be a joke. When they are kidnapped, I found that I did not care about what would happen to them. They scream, yell, and protest when someone they know is tortured and put to death but there is nothing concrete about any one of them. It is near impossible to discern which person is supposed to be our hero or heroine.
While some of us might wish for the students to find an escape and report to the proper authorities about what is going on in the building, their action support that they are not very smart. Too many people whisper and whimper as they make their way across dark corridors. Isn’t the idea not to get caught? Is it really too much for the director to tell his actors to try to act more more clandestine? It turns into a depressing experience real quick.
The scenes involving the extremists delivering grandiose speeches about what being a true American patriot means to them are appropriately gag-worthy. I would like to be able to say that their portrayal and arguments are ridiculously cartoonish but I have actually met some people in college who held similar hatred toward illegal immigrants.
Watching masked men walk from an area of the room to another is unsettling. Do they move around because they need to shake off their feelings of guilt or being uncomfortable? Or is it that walking around allows them to peek inside the torture chambers? Maybe they feel that they get a piece of the action by watching. There is a lot of brain-smashing, accompanied with squishy sounds, and bloody bats.
The film might have benefited from script polishing. For example, while the extremists are supposed to be against illegal immigration, they often come off as only being against illegal Mexicans. While the violence in “Undocumented,” directed by Chris Peckover, is difficult to stomach, the glaring holes in its concept and lack of specificity are even harder to endure.