Riverdale star Camila Mendes stars in Sara Seligman’s Coyote Lake, an on-the-border thriller about a mother and daughter who kill human traffickers. What it lacks in thrills (and overall plot), it makes up for in the world Seligman creates, one which gives Mendes a chance to share another side of her acting abilities. (BKP: 3.5/5)
Review by Vice President and Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky
“When you spend many years traveling from place to place, you grow to miss your home,” a human trafficker proclaims before biting into a hearty home-cooked meal. The story opens at the dinner table of a Mexican woman and her teenage daughter, feeding this “coyote,” another word for a trafficker who takes advantage of migrants crossing the border.
Within a few minutes, the unconscious coyote is wrapped up and sinking to the bottom of Coyote Lake. But with a horrific act in a not-so-horror film is the jarring, unique tone Seligman and her co-writer Thomas Bond seems to be going for. It’s a psychological drama rather than thriller, as their life on the Texas-Mexico border becomes inundated with strange visitors: some seemingly innocent families looking for food and shelter, some violent young men with guns readily at aim.
Mendes (Ester) co-stars with Adriana Barraza (Teresa), in a chilling role as her homicidal mother with a mission. In a similar vein as Hulu’s mini-series The Act, the dynamic of the mother-daughter role is bizarre, unsettling and rarely portrayed in feature films. Teresa makes 17-year-old Ester dress in boy clothing, fashion that even the local patrons comment on. In an odd exchange when Ester lies to the pharmacist for more medication for her mother, the pharmacists gives her the extra medication (problematic) and suggests that Ester trade in her baggy shirts and floppy hats for dresses (also problematic). So, like any pharmacist (sarcasm), she goes in the back and brings out a cute dress for Ester to wear. So many questions arise. Regardless, the atypical relationship between Ester and Teresa is something new for audiences, something Seligman succeeds in delivering and one that Mendes elevates with a performance unlike Veronica Lodge.
She is understated here, trying to balance Ester’s internal coming-of-age story with a plot blended with violence, horror, thriller and personal drama. Interestingly, the Riverdale cast has already made a name for itself starring in the wildly popular CW show. But the talented crop of young actors have also made an effort, intentional or otherwise, to work with female filmmakers. Several episodes of the show based on a darker iteration of the Archie comics have been directed by women, including a particularly visually-interesting hour from director Jennifer Phang. Cole Sprouse and Charles Melton made up for middling young adult genre scripts in Five Feet Apart and The Sun Is Also a Star earlier this year, and almost every feature K.J. Apa has starred in since 2017 has been written by a female screenwriter, including A Dog’s Purpose and The Hate U Give. Lili Reinhart co-starred with Timothée Chalamet in Julia Hart’s Miss Stevens and will work with Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu and director Lorene Scafaria in the upcoming crime drama Hustlers.
Mendes made her feature film debut in Carly Stone’s The New Romantic and stands out as a memorable aspect of Seligman’s directorial debut. This generation of young-adult genre actors provides hope for the future of filmmaking and actors’ more gender-balanced approach to filmography. Coyote Lake, in particular, is a good start.
© Brigid K. Presecky (8/2/19) FF2 Media
Photos: Camila Mendes in Coyote Lake
Photo credits: Van Johnson Company/Cranked Up Films
Q: Does Coyote Lake pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
The entire film is centered around a mother and daughter.