Review: Culture Shock (2019)

Since it is still Hispanic Heritage Month and the Spooky season has officially began, it seemed only appropriate to look at a piece of media that connects to both periods. Perhaps, I should have chosen a better one though.

Culture Shock is a Hulu original film from the streaming service’s “Into The Dark” series, a horror anthology series that released original horror films of various themes and styles throughout the year usually coinciding with major holidays/events of each month. Culture Shock was an Independence Day themed film released on July 4, 2019. Culture Shock tells the story of Marisol, a pregnant Mexican woman trying to escape her circumstances and travel into the United States for better opportunity. During her attempts, we see the dark side of immigration by dealing with devious Coyotes, abusers, rapists, and border agents (both official and not) dealing their brand of justice. Of course, even after managing to cross the border, Marisol and her compatriots find the American Dream may actually be a Nightmare.

Mexican woman centered in photo of small, diverse crowd celebrating the Fourth of July. Still from Culture Shock.
Don’t know if the detail of having diversity in the simulation while still having only white people as authority figures was purposeful or not. Even so, cannot tell if it is trying to be clever or just lazy.

The movie is not necessarily bad, as long as you understand what you are getting in to. It is obviously a budget film which, historically, has always been true of the horror genre. This one may have even less than the average budget considering it was specifically a streaming service project and, even in 2019, Hulu was not exactly the biggest or most financially solvent service. Furthermore, the attempts at social criticism and commentary are not novel either. Horror has long been a genre that has stood out for its willingness to use and speak to social and political issues within its films and series. Of course, the actual execution of these have been hit or miss depending on the skills of the writers, directors, and cast of individual productions.

Culture Shock uses the immigration at the Mexican-American border as its core theme and narrative device. Even this is not a new concept as many other horror and thriller films have used immigration as their primary framework or major plot detail to tell their stories. The expected elements when American films discuss this issue are present. The corrupt and vile coyotes, gang members, killers, a few naïve and noble immigrants, and the racist, corrupt white Americans. To say that the film dwells in clichés would be an understatement and perhaps that is why the framing and method of immigration examination and discourse feels so absurd and out of date. It’s almost like a relic from long past even though the film is only a few years old. The racist American’s proposed solution to the immigration problem is so benign and intellectual compared to the reality and horrors that actual immigrants suffer as they are played as political pawns if not outright murdered that it becomes farcical instead of satire or even parody. Frankly, the treatment of immigration as an issue is disappointing with how straight the film plays it. The absurd framework and characterizations worked in films like The Final Purge because the film leaned into an over the top, violent, and unrealistic tone and world. In Culture Shock it just feels blasé attempting to be clever or intelligent. It doesn’t quite work.

A Mexican woman and young boy are caught trying to cross the southern border along Texas. Still from Culture Shock.
Yeah, the movie really is filled with a bunch of clichés.

So, yeah, not a terrible movie. There are no horrible frames or shots. The music works. And there are no immersion breaking bad visual effects especially for its budget. It is a fully competent film; it is just not a particularly good or memorable one. Plenty of other options for the season or just an enjoyable horror flick even on Hulu.

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