Director – Chris Peckover, Screenplay – Chris Peckover & Joe Peterson, Producers – Keith Calder, Josh Finn & Jessica Wu, Photography – Matt Gulley, Music – Brian Cachia, Visual Effects Supervisor – Marcus Stokes, Makeup Effects – Two Hours in the Dark (Supervisor – Gary J. Tunnicliffe), Production Design – Miguel Montalvo.
Scott Mechlowicz (Travis Williams), Alona Tal (Liz Tonin), Peter Stormare (Z), Kevin Weisman (Jim Bowman), Greg Serano (Davie Carillo), Noah Segan (Klaus), Tim Drazl (William), Yancey Arias (Alberto Fuentes), Castulo Guerra (Coyote), Carmen Corral (Maria Fuentes), Greta Quezada (Marta), Tom Connolly (Brad), Nick Tucci (The Artist), Deborah Martinez (Ophelia), Jose Marquez (Miguel), Chad Brummett (Douglas Whitaker)
A group of young American filmmakers set out to make a documentary about illegal immigration from Mexico across the border into the United States. They pay money to a people trafficker and join a group of illegals as they are herded through a tunnel beneath the border. However, as soon as they are placed in a truck on US soil, they are apprehended by a group of masked vigilantes. When it is discovered that they are Americans and making a documentary, the group’s leader decides that he wants them to film their operation as a warning. There, under threat of their lives, they are witness as Mexican illegals are tortured, humiliated and killed.
It was not long after the Torture Porn fad hit with films like Saw (2004), Hostel (2005) and numerous imitators and sequels, that filmmakers began to move beyond the dubious idea of serving up extreme sadism for our delectation to using the genre to make political commentary. Real-life Torture Porn went big first with Guantanamo Bay and in particular in 2004 with the revelations of what had happened at Abu Ghraib.
It was not long before filmmakers began to connect the two. 2010 saw two films both coming out around the same time – with the Canadian-made Territories (2010) and Undocumented here – addressing the subject and tying it to US fears about foreign persons and featuring the torture of people attempting to cross the US border. Even closer to this was Jonas Cuaron’s subsequent Desierto (2015), while the subsequent Beneath Us (2019) with Mexican day laborers being tortured by entitled white people.
While Territories dealt with Homeland Security and fear of people from the Middle East, Undocumented turns South of the Border and concerns itself with illegal immigration from Mexico. There is a strong contrast made between the vigilante group operating here and the militia squads that emerged in recent years determined to patrol the border against any illegals. To make the point perfectly clear, the end credits play out against tv footage of the Border Wall being erected in Arizona and border guards rounding up illegals. (And this was made five years before Donald Trump emerged on the radar with his Build The Wall nonsense).
At the outset, the cast look like the blandly good-looking tweens that usually inhabit modern slasher films. It is some time before the film begins to kick in in and allows sympathies with the group to engage. About the half-hour point though, Undocumented begins to take a turn for the darker. This is about the point the film starts to show its teeth – a scene where a drug mule is forced to swallow a condom of cocaine at gunpoint; illegals strung up from meathooks and being hosed down as a means of subjugation; Noah Segan making a woman beg on her hands and knees and feeding her slices of apple like she were a dog; and particularly a scene where a man who barely speaks English is forcibly asked citizenship knowledge questions while his wife is being held in a torture device.
Though the film could easily sit within Torture Porn territory, it shies away from pushing things that far. All of this comes with a biting sense of very dark irony – like the scene where the cameraperson is shot and the crew ask to use one of the Mexicans as a replacement only to be asked why an undocumented immigrant should be used when a US citizen can perfectly well do the job.
Undocumented is shot as though it were a Found Footage film along the lines of The Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity (2007) et al. The group carry a camcorder into the midst of the action and everything is frequently shot raw as though through a camera lens; on the other hand, the film is not a bona fide work of Found Footage in that it frequently breaks this point-of-view with cuts and moves into regular dramatic third-person staging.
Director Chris Peckover subsequently went on to make the home invasion horror film Better Watch Out (2016).