Definition of Camino: path, road, journey.
The title of stuntwoman/actress Zoe Bell’s latest film, Camino, is very telling as it’s a film detailing the journey her character takes through the jungles of Colombia to escape being murdered at the hands of a man named Guillermo (Nacho Vigalondo) and his group of henchmen. It also tells the story of the journey her character takes as she moves ever forward, afraid at first, but slowly gaining confidence as her journey continues. Bell plays Avery, a photographer that’s tagging along with Guillermo and his team as they go deep into the Colombian forests to document the atrocities of the Medellin cartel as they refuse to loosen their death grip on the country. During one serene evening, Avery decides to go off on her own and take some photos of the lush jungle. But she happens upon Guillermo, as he commits a heinous murder, and takes a picture of the act. Guillermo awakens his team, and spends the rest of the film hunting Avery down, in order to relieve her of her camera, her film, and her life.
Set in the 80’s, Camino is a melange of a few different tropes. It’s a drama wrapped around a gritty action adventure, surrounded with a crunchy nougat comprised of themes you might find in films like The Most Dangerous Game (1932). Now that might sound like a bit of a muddle to most, but writer Daniel Noah and director Josh C. Waller have crafted a exquisitely gripping tale that takes its time ratcheting up the tension to allow for some genuine characterization to shine through. For example, Avery isn’t in Colombia looking to score brownie points by going to one of the most violent areas on the planet. She’s there in search of the humanity behind all of that violence, the humanity that the U.S.A. has forgotten all about, and the cartels who look at everyone as a means to a end, and nothing more. When she witnesses Guillermo commit his own little personal atrocity, it’s her humanity that comes through, and she’s hellbent to get that film to her publisher, Donald (Kevin Pollak in a nice cameo). As she’s trying to escape, Avery is haunted by the voice of her husband, Daniel (Dominic Rains), who she left behind to take on this assignment. Noah’s script takes pains to show Avery as a person who’s being haunted by her personal demons as well as the real life ones pursuing her through the jungle, and the discussions she has with her husband in her head make her journey all the more hellish. And if you stop to think about it, the jungle that she’s racing through is itself a substitute for hell. The film conceals its conceits very well, they dawn on you slowly, almost subliminally, as the chase continues.
Zoe Bell has an outstanding reputation as one of the best (if not the best) stuntwomen in the business, but she’s been working hard to develop her acting chops as well. Her maturation into a solid actress is fully evident here in Camino. She’s not just the “Tough Lady” that she’s portrayed in most of her previous films. She shows a genuinely soft side here, and when I say “soft“, I don’t mean she wimps out – far from it. She gives Avery shades of weakness, uncertainty, fear, anger and love, and she melds them all together in what must be considered her best performance so far. She’s progressed far enough as an actress to show that she can hold her own against any actor placed in front of her. And, true to form, once she has to kick ass, she most certainly does. But there’s an air of uncertainty in her fight scenes, her character isn’t a fighter, so when she mixes it up with others the outcome isn’t always too certain.
But as good as she is, it’s Nacho Vigalondo who really runs away with this film. As Guillermo, he’s a whirling dervish of manic activity, but I don’t mean that to say he’s running around back and forth, greedily chewing up scenery – far from it. His form of lunacy comes through in his delivery of his lines, during which his voice rises and falls as he presents his character as a sort of machiavellian demon of sorts. He knows that through varied vocal modulations, his character’s true intentions will become evident to the viewer, even before he commits his crime. His control over the members of his group slowly erodes as his mania outpaces his sanity. And the longer Avery can evade his grasp, the shorter his control over the others becomes. It’s a wonderfully loopy, yet modulated performance.
Director Waller keeps the film moving along at a steady, if not too fast, pace. He does a wonderful job of making the Colombian jungle (actually filmed in Hawaii) look as lush and forboding as it could possibly be. Noah Greenberg’s cinematography features moments of breathtaking beauty that echo the work of Dick Bush/John M. Stevens in William Friedkin’s sadly unsung Sorcerer (1977), but there are moments when the film takes on a darker hue that looks dull & unvarnished. Perhaps this is due to being surrounded by a canopy of vegetation/trees that block out the sun, but it still tarnishes the film’s overall look every so often. The pounding electronic score by Pepijn Caudron (as Kreng) makes the film feel a lot faster than it actually is, but not to its detriment.
Camino is most definitely the best film Ms. Bell has starred in so far, but that doesn’t mean that it’s gonna be for everyone. She’s not playing a kickass, take no prisoners character like she did in 2013’s Raze (oddly enough, also directed by Waller). She’s not the happy go lucky but short lived Six Horse Judy that she portrayed in The Hateful Eight (2015) either. Avery is a troubled character with a conscience and a camera, searching for some truth in a muddle of thick leaved trees, and armed drug runners, and she plays it just right. Interestingly enough, she (along with Vigalondo) is listed as an executive producer on this film. So I’m led to believe that she’s seeking out good material for herself to star in, material where she can flex a lot more than just her biceps. Good for her! I’m sincerely excited to see what roles she takes on in the future.
Camino isn’t perfect. A few pacing issues, some dark cinematography, and Vigalondo’s line readings being a tad indecipherable at times hinder it. But its definitely the best film that Ms. Bell has starred in, and is a lot more powerful (in the dramatic sense) than I expected it to be. It packs a serious punch, and is definitely worth a watch once it gets its official release on March 4th. Don’t miss it!
Camino (4 / 5)