Film Review: Barrio Tales (2012)

SYNOPSIS:

An anthology horror movie presenting three stories with a Mexican theme.

REVIEW:

Everyone likes anthology horror movies don’t they? There’s almost always something for everyone, in nice bite size pieces, and even if one segment doesn’t work there will be another one along in twenty minutes. Everything moves along at a fast pace, there’s very little padding and there’s usually a juicy little twist in each tale.

Which brings me neatly to BARRIO TALES, a low budget anthology horror from the Tarnol brothers (Jarret directs and Brent writes and acts). Their film begins with the traditional wraparound story which in this case concerns two obnoxious American teenagers who have crossed the border into Mexico looking to score some cheap drugs. They meet a flea-bitten Mexican, The Poet (Alexander Aguila), who takes them to his camp to meet their contact. While they wait, sitting around the campfire, The Poet tells them three tales about Americans who come to regret ever dealing with anyone from the barrio.

The first tale – “Maria” – concerns the young maid at a luxurious mansion back across the border in the US. Decent, honest and hard-working, Maria (Ana Corbi) is tormented and teased by the over-privileged young man of the house Trevor (Matt Shively) and his equally arrogant and feckless friends. When tragedy ensues, vengeance is delivered barrio-style. It’s in the classic anthology tradition of an essentially good person being hounded by the bad that eventually get their comeuppance. Think of the Peter Cushing segment in TALES FROM THE CRYPT [1972] and you’ll get the picture. It’s very well done actually: the kids are truly despicable, Maria is saintly and beautiful and amid the mayhem there is a worthwhile point being made about the treatment of migrant workers.

The second tale – “Uncle Tio’s Taco Truck” – tells the story of three young friends who come to suspect that the kindly Uncle Tio (David Fernandez Jr) who operates the local taco stall may be involved with a series of disappearances that is plaguing the district. This segment is a blackly comic story which nevertheless delivers some juicy gruesome moments. It works because it swiftly and skilfully sets up some interesting and varied characters that draw us into caring despite it being basically quite a silly story. We meet conspiracy theorist Oggy (EJ Marin), feisty skater Chad (Christopher Meyer) and switched-on Mimi (Elizabeth Small) who despairs of her knucklehead car-obsessed older brother Les (Hunter Cope). It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on but that’s not the point – indeed the film makers acknowledge their debt to past movies with a glorious tip of the hat towards a very famous line from sci-fi classic SOYLENT GREEN [1973].

The third tale – “El Monstruo” – is about a gang of migrant Mexicans who illegally cross the border in search of work only to find themselves in a living nightmare when they are duped into being taken prisoner by a murderous family of redneck patriots, the patriarch of which turns out to be the monster of local legend. After several of their number are brutally slain, one Mexican – Oscar (Oscar Lopez) – manages to escape and calls his brother Christian (Fabian Lopez) and friend P (Isait De La Fuente) for help. What follows is a bloody (and actually rather symbolic) showdown between the twisted all-American family and the rebellious and increasingly confident Mexican family. Like the first segment, this tale also has something despairing to say about the risks taken and perils faced by Mexicans seeking a better life away from the barrio.

Finally, as anthology tradition dictates, the bookend story is resolved and the scratchy grindhouse-style credits roll. It’s a good effort from the Tarnol brothers: it respects the conventions of the anthology movie while introducing more modern elements, such as the focus on the immigrant poor and a measure of social commentary. Of course, the low budget places some restrictions on the film’s quality – the special effects aren’t great and it isn’t the most beautiful film you’ll ever see – but it’s quite evident that plenty of care has gone into it. It has heart and it has brains too, not unlike Uncle Tio’s Tacos …

Barrio Tales (2012)

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