July 29, 2019 Coyote Lake (Movie Review)
In Texas, there is a remote lake on the US-Mexico border where hundreds of violent deaths and mysterious disappearances have occurred, possibly at the hands of the cartels. Most of these murders remain unsolved, that is, until now. The brand new Thriller Coyote Lake provides one possible explanation for some of these deaths, and it arrives to select theaters and On Demand on Friday, August 2nd, 2019, thanks to Cranked Up Films.
Bright-eyed and hopeful young Ester (Camila Mendes: Riverdale series, The Perfect Date 2019) and her jaded mother, Teresa (Adriana Barraza: Babel 2006, Drag Me to Hell 2009), run a small, remote boarding house in the woods along the US-Mexico border near Coyote Lake. Aided by Teresa’s mute live-in assistant Dirk (Neil Sandilands: The Americans series, The Flash series), the pair routinely welcome “coyotes,” human traffickers and drug-runners, into their home, and then drug, rob, and rid the world of their wretched souls.
All is running fairly routine when, on one quiet evening, two of the local cartel gangsters turn up on their doorstep. Immediately, a frightened and conflicted Paco (Andres Velez: Southland series, A Good Life short 2018) begins waving a gun around, demanding that Teresa treat his friend Ignacio’s (Manny Perez: Bella 2006, Homeland series) wound. Their arrival sparks something much greater into motion as Ester begins to develop feelings for one of the men. Ultimately, all of their lives will be turned upside down in a matter of days.
Clocking in at 93 minutes, Coyote Lake is a feature-length debut for talented Director Sara Seligman (Diego short 2014, Kosnin short 2016), and was written by Seligman with Thomas James Bond (Hawkins Hill short 2010, The Left Hook short 2012). It also features the acting talents of Charlie Weber (Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, How to Get Away with Murder series).
Billed as a Thriller, the film—which does contain some Spanish and, therefore, provides subtitles—reads more like a blend of Crime Drama and Thriller, leaning more heavily on its dramatic aspects than any action or thrills. Instead, the central core of Coyote Lake is the human toll amassed by the situation along the US-Mexico border. While one might assume that this tale is centered in a current hot spot of socio-political debate thanks to a lovely wall, this story’s focus is instead placed onto the everyday people who are merely trying to survive amidst a turf war between drug-runners and human traffickers.
For those looking for the truth behind the film, well, please remember that Coyote Lake is a fictional tale inspired by real-life. In fact, its actual inspiration is Falcon Lake, which sits right along the US-Mexico border. Nuevo Ciudad Guerrero, which is depicted in the film, is a real place seated along that border, and while Coyote Lake is also an actual location in Texas, it is nowhere near the border.
Thanks to the lovely cinematography of Matthias Schubert (The Stand-In short 2011, The Bay series), the film provides a powerful and emotional experience, though its tale is a bleak one. Of course, this is also much in thanks to the flawless acting of the ensemble cast led by Academy Award-nominated Barraza, as Teresa, and there’s no shortage of impressive performances or tumultuous emotion.
As the hopeful dreamer Ester, Mendes gives a phenomenal performance. Perfectly relatable as a tomboyish young woman torn between her wanderlust and her loyalty to her mother, even without the chaos around her she is already surviving in a precarious position. Mendes’ ability to portray delicate emotion and nuance builds a strong foundation for her co-stars, who are all equally talented. At the upper echelon of her game, Barraza is exceptional as the strong-willed and controlling matriarch of their little family. Her Teresa is initially likable, a kindly older woman who is merely trying to protect her daughter from the ills of a harsh society.
It takes the arrival of Velez’s Paco to turn the entire situation—along with Ester and Teresa’s relationship—upside down. While he is a gangster and the penultimate “boy from the wrong side of the tracks,” we are never fully able to dislike Paco. He, much like Teresa, is merely doing what he feels is best for his family. Velez’s commendable performance brings a humanity to these drug-runners, allowing us to see that they often times share vast similarities with ourselves. Scrape away all the layers and Paco is just like Ester: a boy who wants something more out of life. Furthermore, though he is clearly a criminal, he is also the one to raise the most important ethical question that causes Ester to reconsider her entire existence.
In truth, Coyote Lake is not a feel-good film that will leave you with a warm fuzzy goodness in your heart. It’s a bleak view into the humanity of a current crisis in our country, one that raises pertinent questions. Though one can be weighed heavily by the subject matter, it’s certainly worth reiterating that this film features a phenomenal cast who put their all into their performances, delivering a powerfully haunting experience.
Intelligently done and with an artful subtlety from its creators and cast, Coyote Lake is a Crime Drama/Thriller that is apt to linger in your mind long after its end credits roll. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Coyote Lake 4 of 5 stars.