Reviewed by Joel Durston

Stories of the Mexican criminal underworld is nothing new in cinema – after all, Robert Rodriguez found success the summer before last with his B-movie homage/parody, Machete, telling – ridiculously – the revenge tale of a hard-working Mexican across Mexico, California and Texas.

But those in search of a grittier depiction of life on the notoriously dangerous American-Mexican borderlands would be well served seeking out Miss Bala, the third feature film from Gerardo Naranjo.

Based loosely on the true story of 2008 Miss Sinaloa winner, Laura Zuniga, the film begins with Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman) with her poor family in Tijuana. She and her best friends enter a local beauty pageant with, in her wide-eyed innocence, dreams of stardom.

However, things take a turn for the worst when there is a gangland shooting at a disco the women are at. As a witness, Laura is kidnapped by a gang. Her life spared for some combination of her innocence, beauty and utility, she is trafficked by the gang to push drugs and money, leading her into the perilous world of SUV shoot-outs and clandestine border-crossings.

Sigman gives a fine performance as female protagonist, conveying both the fragility of a woman shoved into the criminal underworld and the incredible resolve she shows in dealing with it.

And the action scenes are as impressively shot as any of the films shot just the other side of the border.

However, the film is a little ponderous at the start, seeming an isolated study of Laura (and her dad and brother), when there is a much wider social context that could be explored – that of the gangsters who arrive unannounced a little way in.

The narrative of ‘good girl dragged in trouble’ is hardly new, but Naranjo breathes just enough new life into the genre, thanks largely to Sigman’s sterling central performance, to merit it being Mexico’s entrant  to be in this year’s Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category.

Extras: None

Released on February 20

About The Author

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Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle