Synopsis: A wealthy Mexican-American family decides to build a wall around their ranch to stop townspeople from stealing their well water, which is rumored to have unusual properties.
Stars: Esai Morales, Mariel Hemingway, Jackson Rathbone, Alex Meneses, Carmela Zumbado, Marisol Sacramento, Xander Berkeley, Moises Arias
Director: Zachary Cotler & Magdalena Zyzak
Running Length: 110 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I’ve mentioned it here before but I think it’s worth repeating here: at film festivals, it pays to have good time management skills. That’s really the only way you’re going to maximize your full potential of seeing as much as you can in the often short time frame that is allotted for screenings. Apart from choosing your films carefully, you need to make sure you’re also selecting the right films at the correct time of day so your energy is matched with what you’re seeing. It doesn’t always work as well as it should when you factor in availability and sheer unavoidable bouts of fatigue but when everything lines up you’re in for a gold star viewing experience.
At the 2019 Twin Cities Film Fest, I was having trouble making my schedule work and finding that I had a gap of time that went unaccounted for. Then I realized that if I moved a few things around, I could start earlier in the day and add another film to my list, which is how The Wall of Mexico began as a simple gap filler but wound up being one of the more interesting and intriguing films I saw. Remember, this was back in October 2019 when all we had to worry about, pre-COVID, fiery protests, and the upcoming election were the harsh regulations being imposed against immigrations into the US. So a movie with a title like The Wall of Mexico was bound to pique some interest at the outset and the good news is that writer/co-director Zachary Cotler rewards those who take the leap into the mysterious lives of the Arista family with a mostly unpredictable parable.
In an unnamed town running along the California border to Mexico, the Mexican-American Arista family lives an enviable life of privilege. As the head of the family, Henry (Esai Morales) has provided well for his two daughters Tania (Marisol Sacramento) and Ximena (Carmela Zumbado, Need for Speed) who spend days lounging by the pool soaking up the sun and nights with a select group who party until they pass out. Into this tranquil existence comes Tom (Jackson Rathbone, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), hired to work as a groundskeeper under the tutelage of Michael (Xander Berkeley, Candyman), the Aristas long-standing employee. It isn’t long before Tom falls under the spell of the beautiful Tania and his crush on her doesn’t seem to surprise anyone, even when it strays into possibly dangerous territory.
If that were the crux of the story, Colter and his co-director Magdalena Zyzak might have had a fine if standard, film exploring the class differences between Tom and Tania but there’s something more on the agenda. On the Arista property is a well, which seems to hold some sort of secret for the family in addition to serving as a frenzied curiosity for the townspeople that want to know what’s being kept hidden from them. When the water level in the well begins to lower dramatically and it becomes evident someone is stealing the limited supply, Tom is assigned to help Michael build a wall around the Arista estate during the day and watch over the tank as an overnight watchman to catch the culprit. As you can imagine, formally being walled out of something creates an even bigger uproar from the rabidly curious and increasingly irate townfolk, leading to a showdown with the town officials (led by Mariel Hemmingway in a brief cameo) and an eventual standoff.
With a run time of nearly two hours, Colter and Zyzak can’t quite sustain the energy or keep up the interest they’ve laid out for the entirety of the film but for a while there The Wall of Mexico gets a nice buzz going as you try to figure out, along with Tom, what’s truly going on. Is the Arista well some sort of fountain of youth, aiding the Arista clan in their success, longevity, and glamorous looks? Or is it simply water and a valuable resource they choose to keep for themselves, which they have every right to do. The questions are interesting and the answers feel resolved long before the movie wraps up
It’s good, then, that the cast is so worth watching and brings something more to the script than what was on the page, and that goes for everyone on screen from top to bottom. Usually, the characters that enter a world foreign to them can be the dullest ones in the bunch but Rathbone finds some good moments throughout that feel special, giving the audience someone they can feel some kind of small relation to. There’s also a bit of a kinship to Morales as the father just doing right for his family and protecting what he’s worked hard to cultivate. A hard-working character actor for years, Berkeley is solid as always. Playing the two wild daughters that take great joy in manipulating the men they love and loathe in their lives, Zumbado and Sacramento are of particular note because they seem to hold the greatest air of mystery for the longest amount of time.
While it’s not the politically timed piece it appears to be at first, there are so many underlying currents flowing through The Wall of Mexico and its left to the viewer to draw their own parallels between the events in the news and what transpires on the Arista estate. Colter has crafted a neat little parable that reflects on our culture and today’s entitled society, it’s often right on the money and I’d imagine it’s a more uncomfortable watch now than it was when I first saw it nearly a year ago.