Review: ‘Borrego’

Lucy Hale Stars In A Drug Drama That Misses Every Point

In Borrego, Lucy Hale plays a botanist mourning her sister’s death and studying an invasive plant species. After witnessing a plane crash at dusk in the middle of nowhere, the young woman quickly realizes that the survivor is not who he seems to be. Part survivor drama and kidnapping tale, Jesse Harris’ first cinematic feature tries to say something new about the American drug trade and fails.

Harris, who also wrote the script, starts out the film noting how Schedule II substances such as Fentanyl and Adderall have changed drug smuggling and added to America’s growing substance abuse crisis. Instead of focusing on the effects of those in the trade or even the users, Harris decides to tell a story of a white woman who gets caught up in the trade by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

New to a small South Western town, Elly (Hale) spends most of her time avoiding her mother’s calls and working in the desert by herself. One day after being joined by the daughter of the local sheriff, she decides to stay out late. While driving back in from the desert, she witnesses a small plane crash. 

The survivor is Tomas (Leynar Gomez), who despite being injured, takes Elly hostage when it becomes apparent his cargo is full of drugs. After a series of stressful events that leave them stranded and without a car. The two must make their way through the wilderness with little food and water, while the local sheriff (Nicholas Gonzalez) and Tomas’ boss Guillermo (Jorge A. Jimenez) are hot on their trail for very different reasons. 

Hale, who is best known for her turn on the ABC Family teen drama Pretty Little Liars, has spent most of her time since the show’s ending in romantic comedies and young adult dramas. (Her latest being last month’s The Hating Game). Here she plays more than the jaded employee crushing on her co-worker. In Borrego, its not just that she is given more to work with than usual. Instead, she makes deliberate choices. Her acting feels less forced than in her past projects, proving that she does have something important to say. 

The script, however, leaves a lot to be desired. If Borrego is meant to be a thriller about Schedule II drugs, then it shouldn’t be the survival story of a white woman at the mercy of a drug cartel. The disconnect between the plot and Harris’s advisory at the beginning of the film feels disjointed to the point of no return. Visually, Harris has something to say. Taking inspiration from the South-Western American landscape, his exterior shots truly capture the loneliness of the desolate climate. He plays with lighting with great effect, with bright reds and foggy carlights illuminating a few scenes. If only the entire film had that effect.

Borrego is in theaters and VOD now.

A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.