This is why diversity in film is essential. Having just shown at Cinepocalypse tonight, Into the Dark’s newest episode, Culture Shock, demonstrates why film is so important, and why it is absolutely necessary that we see more diverse voices in horror…
…One of those voices using the genre to speak up and highlight the very real fears and frustrations in our culture is director Gigi Saul Guerrero. If you live in America, then you know how harshly the current administration in the White House has attacked and scapegoated immigrants, mainly Mexicans and those crossing the Mexican border. With her Into the Dark episode, Culture Shock, Guerrero takes the horror of what’s been happening in America and shapes it into a genuinely shocking story about a Mexican woman named Marisole (Martha Higareda), as she attempts to cross the border with an unborn baby in her belly, searching for a better life and opportunity. Along the way, Marisole comes across all sorts of frightening characters, but none are as awful or as evil as the true terror she faces once she reaches America.
Even as I’m sitting down to write this, the White House, aka King Trump, as I’m sure he’d like to be called, has unveiled more aggressive measures to attack immigrants, while every week it seems like we hear a new story of a child being held at the border dying in ICE custody. All of this makes Guerrero’s Culture Shock not just timely, but a vital message towards how we see American ideals, and what our beloved country has, in reality, become. And for those on the other side of the debate, you’re allowed to feel how you do, but it’s impossible to ignore the very real atrocities at the Mexican border which Culture Shock consistently makes reference to.
Helping to emphasize the fact that most immigrants are, shocker, not murderous rapists, is Higareda as Marisole. Exemplifying her desperation through the unborn child she has coming, we immediately connect with Marisole and her plight. It also helps that Higareda is flat-out charming, and reminds me a lot of Julia Roberts with her sweet though take-no-shit attitude. The filmmakers smartly take us through Marisole’s entire journey, as she encounters the rapists the white house lies about all the time, while emphasizing that they are not the ones crossing the border, but are instead taking advantage of those desperate enough to do so. Culture Shock goes on like this without a hint of true terror for the first thirty minutes or so, allowing Marisole and the story to develop so that Guerrero can set some American-made fireworks off in our ass once the real horror begins.
At some point, Marisole finds herself in a small American town, where every day feels like the 4th of July, and all of its citizens, including an especially chilling Barbara Crampton, act like robotic flag-humpers, all dressed in red, white and blue and grinning from ear to ear like they’ve all had one too many Botox injections. The town is clean, welcoming, and exactly the American dream which Marisole has been promised. Without any concept of what America really is, Marisole is at first oblivious to how wrong this all should seem. But for the audience, this America is straight up unnerving, coming off like a fucked up version of Pleasantville. Then again, I suppose that’s every suburb in America. Guerrero presents a unique view of America with Culture Shock, turning the anthem into more of a cacophony, and splicing images of the flag together with ones of violence. Even the food and the way people eat in this little town seem off, all of it clues to the horrifying reveal that waits for Marisole.
Of all of the Into the Dark episodes, Culture Shock is the most profound in how it relates to our current socio-political state. This film is a brilliant commentary on what the Trump administration has done to immigrants. Touching on child separation and the many children who have died at the border under Trump’s watch, lines like “nobody gives a fuck about these people” feel all too real in a time where so many Americans have turned a blind eye to the border. Understandably, the film may be too heavy for some, but it isn’t all grim. Well, sort of. The filmmakers throw in a few parodies of Fox News and the ignorance of Trump which are good for some much needed laughs, but are still pretty terrifying once you realize the lack of humanity being shown by those sources is accurate.
Culture Shock is a slow burn that ignites into an explosion of red, white and blue terror. Things may start off slow, but once Marisole discovers what is really happening to herself and the others she crossed the border with, Guerrero ramps up the tension until the final, mind-blowing reveal. Trust me when I say that what is really going on in Culture Shock will indeed shock you. Ripe with tension and culminating in some rather gruesome bloodshed, Culture Shock earns all of the praise that will no doubt come its way.
Culture Shock may be too real for some, but grants those who can bear it a few satisfying, “fuck yeah” punches, and an ending that is touching, thoughtful, and transformative. Whether or not Culture Shock ends up being considered “the best” episode of Into the Dark will be revealed in time, but it’s easily the most important and relevant, and I hope everyone on both sides of the immigration argument sees this film. This is the kind of story that can save lives, just by changing minds.
Culture Shock premiers on July 4th through Hulu.
By Matt Konopka