Sicario is as dark and terrifying as any film you will see this year, proving that sometimes the best horror movies aren’t horror at all.
This review isn’t going to attempt to question or deconstruct the political and social tones associated with the U.S./Mexico relationship. This is a movie review, not an op-ed on U.S. drug policy, economic relations, or immigration. That caveat in place, Sacario is a movie unlike any other we’ve received from the big-budget Hollywood machine in quite awhile. Listed as actor Taylor Sheridan’s (Sons of Anarchy) first writing credit, Sicario is not a horror movie, but only because it’s based in a world that exists. A world is right next door.
Emily Blunt plays an idealistic FBI agent who’s brought in to work a special task force dealing with the Mexican drug cartels. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that just as the Cartels don’t play by the rules of law, American assets don’t always play by the rules either. Along with Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, the cast is a powerhouse. If Oscar buzz isn’t already intensifying it won’t be long till it does.
From the first minute of the film to the last we are exposed to a world where humans dwell, yet humanity has been forgotten. The sheer brutality and graphic nature of the story might be considered hyperbolic if the subject matter wasn’t taken directly from real life. All it takes is a perusal of sites such as Blog del Narco and Wikileaks to see what both the Mexican Cartels and U.S. government are capable of, and while the brutality and inhumanity portrayed in Sicario may be a concentrated dose of the worst aspects of the drug war, the film is grounded in enough realism to be entirely plausible.
Director Denis Villeneuve, whose previous films include Prisoners and Enemy, does a masterful job using long cinematic shots in conjunction with sharp direct close-ups to throw us deep into the dangers faced by his cast. The American Southwest is presented as a stage upon which a war is raging on both sides of the border. Combined with Johann Johannsson’s amazing score, Sicario establishes a suffocating intensity to every scene. In an article on Noisey by Joseph Yanick, composer Johannsson is quoted as saying:
I wanted to create music that had an underlying tension and a sense of coming from below the earth, like a throbbing pulse that resonates from underground or the pounding heartbeat of a wild beast that is charging at you. I also wanted to evoke the sadness and melancholy of the border, the border fences and the tragedy of the drug war.
In many ways Sicario is reminiscent of films like It Follows, Gravity, and Mad Max: Fury Road. The score doesn’t just add background music, it’s an additional member of the cast, giving a powerful and pivotal performance that makes a great film even better.
Sicario is the dark, visceral
horror crime-drama we’ve waited and hoped for all year. Take an opportunity and see this film. It shows what the perfect arrangement of writer, director and composer can accomplish in Hollywood.