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Heli | Review

 

HELI from Barcelona based director Amat Escalante is a bit of a live wire. Depending on how it resonates with you, it will either be enervating, or have you walking out of the theater. There is something to be said for films that are that deeply polarizing.

Unknown-44This film nabbed the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year. And I can see why: it creates some of the best sense of foreboding I have seen on film in some time. It is that feeling that something truly awful is going to happen any moment – that is sustained through much of the movie’s running time.

Escalante has a firm grasp over the narrative. From the very first scene that elicited a gasp from the audience at the screening I attended at the 2014 San Diego Latino Film Festival, this film is unrelenting in its single-minded pursuit of exploring the worst in human behavior. Set in a deeply rural Mexico where government and lawlessness coexist as one, the film revolves a family whose lives implode when the teenaged sister of the main character, Heli, has the misfortune of falling for a young cadet who tries to get away with a stolen batch of cocaine from his army superiors. Seen through an apathetic gaze, the movie casually watches the family go through the sort of hell-on-earth nightmare that cinema is seldom able to capture.

I would have appreciated this film more had it been a purer examination of the degradation that permeates the drug cartel trade in Mexico. The nihilistic tone would have then justified the horror the film effortlessly slips into in its last act. But HELI curiously chooses to venture into deliberate pulp. Which undoes the power of the movie. What had initially seemed a graphic display of hellish reality comes off like envelope-pushing shock intended to rattle the audience. Even then, this film will resonate with those who admire darkly bitter, deeply violent films.

Pulpy and gonzo, HELI may not be for everyone, but there is no denying the high voltage charge it carries.

HELI is screening at the Digital Gym Cinema (2921 El Cajon Boulevard) in San Diego June 13-19. 

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