If a movie is forgettably bland, it is because the viewer is not invested in the characters or story; in essence, they are bored. On the other hand, a bad movie, and I mean a truly god-awful film, is on a technical level worse than a boring one but it at least provokes an emotional response. The audience was invested in something, maybe for all the wrong reasons, but invested they were. So, is it worse to be a boring movie or a terrible one?
I have been a lover of movies all my life and have this conversation with several friends and co- workers. All of these people, from all walks of life and all over the world, came to the same conclusion. The consensus is that being dull is the greater cinematic sin. Now, let’s discuss The Wall Of Mexico; and no, it is not a timely documentary about the current state of politics in the United States of America.
Michael (Xander Berkeley) is the groundskeeper for the palatial estate owned by the Arista family. Michael hires Don (Jackson Rathbone), a strong young man, to patrol the grounds at night. Don having only recently moved to town, is confused by everyone asking him if the Aristas let him drink their well water. He is uncertain if they are making weird, racist jokes or if these people mean something else. It is not long before he discovers that the private family well is rumored to have magic properties that help keep one looking younger and have more vitality as they age.
“… he discovers that the private family well is rumored to have magic properties that help keep one looking younger and have more vitality as they age.”
Don dismisses these musings as nothing but tall tales. However, when citizens of the town start breaking onto the property to steal the water, the pressure at work is turned up. Patriarch Henry (Esai Morales) decides that it is time to build a wall around his estate, the well, in particular, to keep people out. Don is now working double duty as he is helping with the construction. Spending so much time with the Aristas, he becomes entranced with Tania (Marisol Sacramento), both to her sister Ximena’s (Carmela Zumbado) delight and displeasure. As the wall continues to expand, protestors come out to oppose its construction. Between work becoming so hostile, his confusion over the tonal whiplash in how Tania is treating him, and the long days, Don gets in over his head.
Written by Zachary Colter and directed by he and Magdalena Zyzak The Wall Of Mexico is gorgeously shot. Director of photography Lyn Moncrief lenses the opulent setting in a way that is both enticing and disarmingly surreal. A brief shot of Tania with her legs over on the concrete and the rest of her floating in their pool, with the camera propped sideways, is mesmerizing almost gets the audience into her headspace. Almost.
Therein lies the issue. At nearly two hours, The Wall Of Mexico is far too long and the characters, aside from Don, are too thinly sketched to hold the attention of the viewer for that amount of time. The hint that the well water is magical, if you will, doesn’t come until almost 30 minutes in and the idea that people are stealing from it comes 10 or so minutes after that. Even then, it is only a few questions to Don about anything he has seen on his nightly rounds. Thus, 40 minutes into the movie, there is finally a conflict of some sort.
During that time, the audience discovers Henry is a good boss, pays well, but is very protective of his family and estate. Tania loves to party and be promiscuous, and when she’s not getting her next high, via drugs or some other means, she’s depressed. Ximena is clinical and possibly wishes she where a robot/ cyborg (there is an amusing moment where that is brought up, but I couldn’t tell if it was a joke). These traits are established in the characters’ respective first scenes, and there is no growth or arc there. Thus, the film does not hold your attention very well.
“…lenses the opulent setting in a way that is both enticing and disarmingly surreal.”
The kicker here is that the cast is bloody brilliant. Rathbone, probably best known for his role in the Twilight franchise, is excellent as Don. He wants to help his employer but as things get crazier, and when his curiosity gets the best of him, that turn is sold beautifully and believably. His chemistry with all of his co-stars is also fantastic across the board. Berkley as the groundskeepers is also quite good. His reaction his anger and hurt over being fired is palpable and relatable.
Sacramento and Zumbado are fantastic at playing these detached, spoiled rich girls. Sacramento sells her character’s highs and lows impressively and the cold, clinical manner Zumbado states all these crazy facts or quotes various authors or philosophers is almost creepy but still fascinating.
If you cut 30 minutes out from The Wall Of Mexico, so the theft from the well is introduced earlier on, the movie could work as a dramatic fountain of youth tale. But as it stands, despite an impressive cast and gorgeous cinematography, there isn’t much to hold the viewer’s attention.
The Wall of Mexico (2018) Directed by Zachary Colter, Magdalena Zyzak. Written by Zachary Colter. Starring Jackson Rathbone, Marisol Sacramento, Carmela Zumbado, Esai Morales, Michael Rand. The Wall of Mexico screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
5 out of 10 Magical Wells