Coyote Lake, co-written and directed by Sara Seligman, is a yet another new thriller that aims big and misses. Ultimately, there are a lot of great ideas showcased in the film, but good ideas only go so far if the story in which they are found is otherwise mediocre.
Inspired by a real location on the Rio Grande, the eponymous “Coyote Lake” is an area along the Rio Grande on a drug smuggling and human trafficking route. (Likely so named because human traffickers are not-so-endearingly referred to as coyotes.) This is undeniably a very intriguing idea, hence why it is so disappointing that it is wasted on what turns out to be little more than a run-of-the-mill thriller.
The movie is about a mother and daughter who run a bed and breakfast which they use as a way to rob and kill the drug-runners and human traffickers who stay the night. Again, this shows a lot of potential to turn into something interesting, but the conflict comes in the form of two cartel gangsters who take them hostage. This “turning the tables” trope has been done so many times before that it is no longer effective.
The story also just isn’t that suspenseful. The point at which the film is going to end is ultimately very clear, so there is little in the movie about which you can be excited. Since you know where the story is going to end, the stakes simply aren’t high enough. And because the film isn’t as suspenseful as it likely could (and should) be, you will consistently be underwhelmed.
Additionally, the character development does few favors for the movie either. It is difficult to get behind any of the characters because the script results to age-old genre archetypes of stupid people making stupid decisions. Furthermore, all of the characters are terrible people. The film is obviously trying to provide commentary on the morality (or lack thereof) of their actions, but this is in no way effective.
The romance subplot that comes from left field is also not particularly compelling. Seligman tries and fails to capture the sort of “Bonnie and Clyde” arc that can be extremely effective if used correctly. However, if used incorrectly, as it is in this case, you are left with two unlikable characters in a relationship that isn’t supportable. This makes the movie feel unnecessarily awkward and uncomfortable to watch.
Despite the lack of material which they are given, the cast does try to salvage the film, and their performances are somewhat admirable. The two leads of the movie, Camila Mendes and Andres Velez, are pretty charismatic, and although they have next to no chemistry together, their performances are strong individually. Supporting actress Adriana Barraza gives a fun and wacky turn, although she feels criminally underused.
On a technical level, the film is somewhat underwhelming. For a movie set predominantly in a single location, you would hope that the filmmakers would take advantage of the confined setting to create and build suspense. Instead, the location of the film feels like little more than a plot device. From the opening shot of the movie, a body sinking into the water, you can tell that the film is going to be bland… and rough.
Coyote Lake leaves a lot to be desired. Too slow to satisfy thrill-seekers and too stupid to please other audiences, this movie exists in an unusual area where it is unlikely to be enjoyable for anyone who watches it. With plenty of alternative socially-conscious genre films to check out, your best bet is to steer clear of this one.
Coyote Lake hits theaters and VOD on August 2.