Here’s Why Everyone Is Talking About Hulu’s ‘Culture Shock’ A Horror Film That Highlights The Migrant Crisis
In the most recent installment of Blumhouse’s “Into the Dark” Hulu TV movie anthology series, “Culture Shock”, a story about a Mexican woman who finds herself trapped in a warped American utopia after attempting to cross the border, Blumhouse explores the horrors of the migrant crisis, adding a dose of supernatural to the already chilling situation many migrants are face when striving for a better life.
“Culture Shock” follows Marisol, played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda, a poor young pregnant woman living in Mexico who dreams of a better life for her and her unborn child.
“Culture Shock” immediately establishes the harrowing conditions that many immigrants face in their home countries before deciding to emigrate. Indeed, one of “Culture Shock”‘s first scenes shows Marisol being raped by Oscar, a man we had previously been led to believe was her loving boyfriend. Shortly after, we also discover that Oscar stole money she had given him to secure her passage across the border to the U.S. This leaves Martha stranded and alone in her home country of Mexico, and also now carrying the child of the man who assaulted her, which adds even more urgency to her situation.
Marisol bravely decides to attempt the crossing one more time to secure a future for her and her baby, paying a “coyote” hundreds of dollars to help smuggle her into the U.S. The journey isn’t an easy one–at nearly every stop on the way to America, Marisol is strong-armed into giving every new handler additional money–money that she wasn’t told about before. If nothing, “Culture Shock” gives a realistic, if infuriating, portrayal of all of the injustice desperate migrants are subjected to while trying to cross the border. And the danger is steeper than ever for Marisol, a single woman who is also pregnant. The threat of sexual violence on Marisol’s body is constant, and what’s more disturbing is how habituated to sexual and other forms of violence she seems to be. It’s just another subtle nod towards her complicated and traumatic history.
After being caught at the U.S. border, Marisol wakes up in a pastel-colored paradise that embodies the American dream in every aspect: the residents are beaming, the food is delicious and abundant, and the pervading sense of peace and harmony of the so-called town of “Cape Joy” easily lulls Marisol into an immediate sense of security. It’s here that the director, Latina auteur Gigi Saul Guerrero, begins to flex her artistic muscles. The cinematography is disorienting, with off-center and odd-angled close-ups, quick cutaways that mimic Marisol’s constant confusion, and a visual stark contrast between Marisol’s old, dreary life in Mexico and her new, vibrant life in Cape Joy, USA.
But something isn’t right in Cape Joy.
Not only does Marisol have no recent memories of what happened to her after being caught by US Border Patrol, but the fellow immigrants she crossed over with have no idea who she is. And while Marisol mysteriously gave birth to her baby while she was presumably unconscious, she’s never allowed to hold her. When Marisol expresses concern to her host mother, Betty (Barbara Crampton) about her missing old belongings, Betty tells her: “Don’t worry about what you’ve lost. Think instead of all that you’ve gained.” It’s lines like this, which are obviously meant to convey more than just the literal meaning of the words, that the movie leans hard into.
Throughout “Into the Dark”, there is an underlying current of not-so-subtle political messaging that makes it obvious that this movie isn’t your typical straight-forward horror film. It’s as much a vehicle for social commentary and critique on the migrant crisis and America’s inhumane treatment of migrants at the border as it is about delivering stomach-churning gore and jump scares. The movie, directed by, confirms the existential fear many migrants have of looked at as sub-human when they try to cross the border. Sometimes, the social commentary comes off as a little too on-the-nose, with Big-Bads saying things such as: “Nobody gives a fuck about these people,” and “We’re not paid to give [them] the American Dream. We’re paid to keep them out of it”.
When the mystery behind the oddness of Cape Joy is finally revealed, the element of sci-fi and horror that’s added to Marisol’s story can almost feel like a relief, purely due to its obvious fictional tropes. The more terrifying parts of the movie–the abusive boyfriends, the violent men, the human traffickers, and the Mexican cartel–are arguably more frightening than the supernatural parts.
And lest, while watching, you trick yourself into thinking the movie isn’t really a horror movie, prepare yourself for a few jarring scenes.
The climax of the movie is an extremely gruesome and violently gory climax that establishes the anthology installment as exactly what it markets itself as: a horror movie. But as we’ve seen in headlines that flood the TV, the newspapers, and our phones, sometimes, reality can be more horrifying than fiction.