“Miss Bala”: Beauty pageants and balls of steel

Get ready to read the words “powerful,” “brutal,” and “compelling…” (the go-to words for lazy reviewers who have a deadline to meet and not much caffeine left.) This new film by another Mexican up-and-comer certainly packs the proverbial punch.

Set in a lawless border town, director Gerardo Naranjo evocatively paints a visceral picture of a country ravaged by violence and corruption. In amongst all this anarchy, wannabe beauty star Laura (Stephanie Sigman) is an ordinary – yet genetically faultless – young lady, living off little money at home with her father and brother. But one fateful day, she becomes embroiled in gangland warfare and her life takes on a rather different path to that of sashes and tiaras. She is manipulated, violated and blackmailed into all sorts of legally unsavoury activities.

Despite such potential for political righteousness, the film never feels like its preaching to you. The ‘third person’ follower style of the camera denies the viewer of having any more information than the main character has, unnerving the audience through the rearrangement of expectations in a film about the hardly newfound territory of guns [x], girls [x] and glamour [x]. It’s also able to maintain a quiet stillness in between the more climactic action sequences, thanks to little musical accompaniment. This is the life of Mexican drug rings, not generic nightclubs on a Friday night.

But somehow, in spite of subject matter that teems with more morbid exploitation than Michael Haneke could shake a stick at, the film retains a smidgeon – albeit small – of Hollywood stylistics. Maybe it’s the beauty pageant backdrop, maybe it’s the protagonist’s natural good looks, or maybe it’s the slickness of the high heel shoot-outs. Whatever it is, it’s powerful, brutal, and, um… well, compelling.

3.5/5 (Hits home with a bang, like some sort of beautiful bullet.)


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