UNDOCUMENTED is American Nationalism Up Close & Ugly

Undocumented. 2010. Directed by Chris Peckover. Screenplay by Peckover & Joe Peterson.
Starring Scott Mechlowicz, Alona Tal, Yancey Arias, Greg Serano, Kevin Weisman, Tina Borek, Peter Stormare, Nicholas Tucci, & Noah Segan.
Sheperd Glen Productions.
Unrated. 96 minutes.
Horror

★★★★
undocumentedposterI’m a lover and defender of found footage as a sub-genre. Because when used appropriately, whether it involves a gimmick or not, there’s plenty to do with the concept of found footage. Sometimes a film adheres totally to the format. Other times it’s a bit loose and not every aspect of the movie tends to fall in line. Still, if the premise is something intriguing that hasn’t been really done before, there’s a lot of room for a gruesomely fun horror ride.
Undocumented is a political horror, in every sense. Many brand it as torture porn, a term I can’t stand. I say that beneath all the ghastly madness there’s a strong message about extremists, the behaviour of those who are fundamentally for nationalism to a point of denying others less fortunate human rights. There’s a good deal of nasty horror. Don’t get me wrong. But it never overshadows the more thoughtful points of the screenplay. And there is certainly thoughtfulness, under the blood and the tears. Nationalism anywhere can become less about pride and more about hate. Undocumented is a grim view of the dangers in nationalism, specifically the violent bran of gun-loving nationalists in America.
Still, don’t be fooled – when I saw Americans, I don’t just mean those who were born in the country, but also those who legally immigrated. The American Dream casts a spell over everyone and soon you’re armed, ready to fight for those rights you believe someone else is taking away.
undocumented1There’s a strain of hypocrisy running through much of the plot. First, the fact Z (Peter Stormare) speaks with his thick foreign accent makes us wonder how legal immigrants could be so harshly judgemental of those unable to attain citizenship, needing to get out of their country because of violence, drugs, many other awful things. They’ve become indoctrinated into the pro-American lifestyle so hard that they are blind to the plight of other immigrants. Later on when Alberto (Yancey Arias) is being quizzed, in life or death style, he’s asked questions that many natural born Americans probably can’t answer. This is best exemplified when one of the cameramen whispers the answer to “Who said ‘Give me liberty or give me death’?” – he says that it’s Thomas Jefferson. Well, this is in fact wrong; it was actually Patrick Henry. And that’s an often misattributed quote that Americans get wrong. The irony is deafening, the hypocrisy so blatantly evident. This is an illustration of how certain elements in the immigration test are hypocritical at a basic level, when so many Americans probably would never be capable of telling you how many members there are in Congress, et cetera. A great, vicious point director Chris Peckover (co-wrote the script with Joe Peterson) makes with this scene. Add on top of that the fact Z and his patriotic crusaders kill illegal immigrants, they’re doing nothing for American freedom, that’s for damn sure.
I’d consider the saddest, most dehumanising moment – even amongst all the horrific torture – when one of the patriots gives a tour to the documentary filmmakers. They come across a woman he calls Maria (not her real name). He treats her, literally, like an animal by feeding her apple slices when she finishes the words to “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” If you couldn’t understand it before, the fact these men see Mexicans as lower forms of life is shockingly presented in this scene.
undocumented2Youre a Botticelli now. But if I let you rot in the sun a few days, youd be Rubenesque.”

The Artist (Nicholas Tucci) disturbs me most. He’s the film’s most viscerally disturbing character. How much joy he takes in the macabre process of creating human scarecrows for immigrant tunnels is truly scary. Under a mask like the others, Tucci manages to take the character into chilling territory. His matter of fact way of speaking, how he explains on a living subject where he’ll cut pieces out of the corpse on which he works; everything he does is morbid and powerfully unnerving. Likewise, Stormare as the leader of the nationalist group is a figure of utter dread. Even through the mask he wears his performance gets to you, digging under the skin. At one point he gives a silent, animal-like head tilt into the camera; you barely see his features beneath the mask, but just his body language makes the moment one that will run your blood cold.
When they break out the piñata, it is a cruel scene, like the perfect culmination to top off all the previous cruelty. Along with A Serbian Film (released in the same year) and 2011’s Kill List, this moment is up there with some horrendous, tragic moments in horror very similar in execution. Having the piñata there is simply another touch to add insult to injury, in a proper storytelling sense. A real carnival of human suffering.
undocumented3Because the acting is really solid, including Scott Mechlowicz whose terror in the face of their situation is spot on, and the horror is visceral, Undocumented is one of the better found footage efforts out there. It isn’t perfect, much of the plot hits on one note, over and over. Yet in between all the torture, the bloody mess, the nationalist rants, there are genuinely smart points made in the writing about how America’s ardent anti-immigration camp can get dangerously lost in its own rhetoric and whirlwind of patriotic hate disguised as pride.
I love Americans, I have friends from the U.S. and even family in Kentucky. Those who are smart, level-headed, open-minded are wonderful. But there is a dark, racially charged and racially biased segment of the country, one we’re seeing inflamed right now due to the current 2016 Presidential Election and much of the nonsense Drumpf is putting out into American society. 
Undocumented
is a horror movie view of what extremism can bring. We’ve seen plenty on the other side of things, pointing fingers at anybody brown for possibly harbouring anti-American feelings since 9/11. This time, director Chris Peckover takes aim at the homefront. Moreover, he opts not to just go by the media-centred view of the American South being where all the anti-immigration sentiment is coming from. And this is what chills the most: once you’ve been legally crowned a U.S. citizen, the hidden workings of the country begin shaping your mind. Like Z and some of the other legal immigrants in the film, it’s not always who you think that hates those who illegally enter the country.
Now and then you’d be surprised where hates lies.

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True Detective – Season 2, Episode 6: “Church in Ruins”

HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 6:
 “Church in Ruins
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik (BansheeGame of Thrones)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto

* For a review of the next episode, “Black Maps and Motels Rooms” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Other Lives” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.27.47 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.28.31 AMBeginning where we left off, the tense moments between Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) pick up. Frank sits down with some coffee, asking if Ray would like some sugar, anything else. Normally you might laugh, however, the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife.
I would’ve been different,” says Ray.
Of all the lies people tell themselves,” Frank replies.
I sold my soul for nothin’,” Ray says as he bursts at the seams.
That choice was in you before your wife or any of this other stuff. It was always there, waiting,” Frank tells him.

There is still a solid discussion of morality going here. Essentially, Ray Velcoro has still committed murder; no matter how we cut the cards. Frank Semyon puts it bluntest, and maybe most truthful, when he tells Ray: “Own it.” Because yes – Frank is a dirty dog, he tricked Ray into believing he was doing his wife justice by killing the man who raped her, when truly it was a point of leverage for Frank, to have a cop under his thumb.
But at the same time, Nic Pizzolatto is having his characters basically ask us – is murder ever justified? These are philosophical situations. I think people – some, not all – seem to be pissed because the second season lacks what the first had in the existentialist dialogue of Rust Cohle. When really, you just have to pay attention: it’s all there. Pizzolatto just isn’t spelling it out as blatantly as he was in the first season through Rust. More power to him – his detractors last season were complaining that Rust and his ramblings made things clunky. You can never satisfy everyone. The morality question is constantly in play, most certainly the heaviest theme going on for Ray Velcoro’s arc.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.28.44 AMProblem for Ray is, he’s supposed to be helping Dt. Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and Dt. Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch).
Instead he’s at the prison confronting the actual man who raped his wife, seeing as how the man he’d killed at the word of Frank Semyon was not the actual rapist.
Tense damn scene with Velcoro here. Incredibly tense and cutting acting. The look in Farrell’s eyes always seems to speak more than he ever can with whatever dialogue he’s given – such expression in them, his whole face. I’ve long said Farrell is an excellent actor when given the appropriate material. Much the same as I feel often about Taylor Kitsch; he’s giving a great turn this season, as well.
Even worse again, Ray is having to go to supervised visits with his son. It’s painful to see their relationship because Ray wants to hold on – he doesn’t care whether or not the biological father is the rapist. He needs something other than being a cop, being a vigilante, to make him whole, and that something is being a father. Every little bit that it slips away, I can see the cracks forming in Ray’s outer shell, his ego already crumbled long ago, and the more it falls away there’s no telling where Velcoro is going to end up.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.29.54 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.30.17 AMFrank tells the son of his dead ‘colleague’: “This hurt, it can make you a better man. That’s what pain does – it shows you what was on the inside.” Here, for the first time, we can actually see that good side of Frank that does want to be a part of the world. We can see that Frank wants to be a father, and he might be a good one.
Juxtaposed with Frank and this fatherly moment, we see the deterioration of Ray and his son.
I am your father, you are my son,” says Ray. “I will always love you.” You can see the torture inside him as he grasps onto the last bits of himself. Right afterwards, he heads home and hits the booze, rails a ton of cocaine, and just gets completely obliterated. The stable little bits of Velcoro we saw, those tiny glimpses, are quickly vanishing.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.30.53 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.31.12 AMI cannot say it enough – Colin Farrell is fucking knocking this role out of the park and into the lot, smashing the windows, sending everyone home. Anyone who says different is not paying attention. I don’t care what you think of the overall plot, if you can’t admit that Farrell is nailing the character of Ray Velcoro then you’re beyond blind. His drunk and stoned scene, the aftermath, it is complete perfection. There’s no way it could’ve been played any better, it felt like watching an actual man fall apart right before my eyes.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.29.14 AMI’m enjoying where Ani Bezzerides’ arc is headed. She’s got to go in to a party where they won’t allow even a purse, so Ani and her knives won’t be headed inside. What interests me is that sexuality is a whole struggle for Ani. It’s because she works in such a macho, predominantly male environment in the police department. She has been railroaded into a sexual harassment therapy group where the men mostly just enjoy hearing Ani talk about sex – it’s a hypocritical and nonsensical punishment from the patriarchal department. To see her headed towards a situation where she’ll need to play up her sexuality, use that against men, it’s not as easy as it may sound – Ani’s sister Athena (Leven Rambin) is telling her that she’ll need to strip even, and you can see the struggle already on her face hearing this news.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.32.13 AMThings are getting murky murky here in the sixth episode.
When Ani heads to the party – using her sister Athena’s name – we see how deviant and weird everything surrounding Caspere’s murder, the events following, is truly beginning to get. Ani and a ton of other sexed up women are loaded onto a bus, their purses and cellphones taken, and herded like a sheep of cattle to the slaughter.
Behind the bus, both Woodrugh and Velcoro tail a ways back to try and cover Ani. They even rush in, as Woodrugh chokes a guard outside, both clad in black gear. Loving their little undercover type task force, it’s making things get more exciting especially with this episode.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.32.48 AMFrank is still sorting motives out on the Caspere end, trying to track down the hard drive and figure out where things disappeared to after Caspere’s place, as well as who they disappeared with, in what hands. I like how Frank has become a sort of detective in his own right here. Certainly after he and Ray have started butting heads, he has to take some of the burden on himself to figure out what has truly been going on.
Unfortunately for Frank, getting to the bottom of the Mexican side of things is bringing more death and destruction into his life. I keep thinking how Frank seems stuck in that old gangster lifestyle, try and try as he might to get out of that quicksand.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.32.00 AMThe party. Man, oh, man – what can I say about this party? Weird, wild, maybe wondrous? Sure.
Sex, drugs, booze. And of course: food! When you’re having an orgy with about a hundred or more people, you’ve got to have food on hand. People get hungry. Need to keep the energy up for more orgying.
It’s fucked up. Pizzolatto is proving there’s still enough oddity in Season Two of True Detective to keep some of the first season’s hardcore fans interested.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.33.46 AMIt’s scary watching Ani essentially walk into the lion’s den. She has no phone, no weapon, and surrounded by so many old perverts. Creepy stuff to endure at times because YOU KNOW bad things happen at these “parties”. Plus, she spots prominent members of society walking through the rooms – Richard Geldof (C.S. Lee), among others. All the girls are given some drugs to help get them in the mood, keep them going, and Ani feels the effects. This whole time I was so worried about poor Ani – she’s such a strong woman but in this situation her power has basically been stripped completely.
We get a huge glimpse into Ani’s past – she has a major flashback during the party. It actually wowed me for a moment or two, so clear and at the same time brief. There’s most definitely a traumatic assault of some sort in Ani’s past which has ultimately guided her uneasiness and uncomfortable nature with men (we see a bearded man with long hair who claims there’s a unicorn in those woods and at one point leads Ani off in a dreamy shot to an old VW van). I felt terrible for her at this party, wandering around; so many people jerking off and watching others have sex, rooms full of orgies. Nasty, rough stuff!
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.34.18 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.34.27 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.34.43 AMThere is a ton of great stuff going on throughout “Church in Ruins”.
I love how the entire way to the party, as Woodrugh and Velcoro sneak up, when Ani slices and dices a few thugs – there is a great piece of classical music playing. Amazing. This was one of my favourite series of scenes since Season Two stared, it was just so perfectly composed and put together in terms of how the camera moved, the scenes changed, the music played over top. It made that whole finale to the episode more exciting than it would’ve been already. Amazing way to amp things up.
At the end of “Church in Ruins”, we see Ani in a rough spot. It’s interesting, but disturbing all the same. Luckily her night of psychological torture brought the detectives some well deserved information.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.36.01 AMA lot of plot movement going on here, plus a good deal of character development. I think “Church in Ruins” is the best episode so far in Season Two. I predict a great few revelations, some more excitement and thrill, as well as maybe even a death or two. We’ll see! Such a solid crime drama in my opinion, with plenty of elements to make it a full-on thriller at many times, but I’m sure half the internet would call me an idiot or say I know nothing about television or movies because I like this – whatever.
Tell me what you thought in the comments or hit me up on Twitter: @yernotgoinatdat – we can have a (civil) chat.
Lots of people are disappointed in this season. I am not, whatsoever. It started off a little rocky, and since then it has gotten great, week after week. Despite the naysayers. Let them keep on. The last couple episodes are going to knock my socks off.

Next week’s episode is titled “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”. It’s directed by Daniel Attias. His filmography as director includes episodes of Masters of SexBloodlineThe AmericansRay DonovanHomelandThe Killing, and even 16 episodes of one of my favourite comedies, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Particularly, I’m excited for Attias to do an episode because I love both Bloodline and Ray Donovan, which are both extremely gritty at times.
Stay tuned and we’ll find out how wild things get.