irajoel’s review published on Letterboxd :
A vivid and brutal depiction of the Mexican drug problem with all that goes with it. Set in a rural part of the country the film is directed by the young filmmaker Amat Escalante who won the best director prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. Amat is certainly talented with a sure hand and a vivid eye for telling a story no matter how unpleasant that story might be.
The film is simple. A family comprised of a young man Heli of the title his wife, young child, young sister and father live together in poverty in a dry, barren and raw part of Mexico. Both Heli and his father work in a bright, shinny and noisy auto factory that is a long way from their house which is barely a shack and Escalante fills it with details and reality.
Heli is trying to hold things together, his marriage is falling apart and his sister Estela who is all of 12 has taken up with a 17 year old wise guy who is training with the federal police and is pressuring her to go all the way with him. The father is passive so all of the problems of their world is on Heli’s young shoulders and things take a terrible turn when Beto the boyfriend steals some cocaine, that is the property of a drug cartel who has members in the army and also probably in the corrupt police force.
Beto hides the drugs on the roof of Heli’s house in a water canister where Heli finds it when he goes up to the roof to try to restore the water that has stopped running in the shower and destroys the coke. Not smart on either one of their parts and the 2nd half of the film is rough and tense and unbearable.
This film bleeds and it chewed me up and spit me out all over my apartment. It disturbed me and I will warn you that it is not for everyone, hell I don’t even know if it’s for anyone. There is a scene of torture that takes place in a home where young boys watch video games and a mother cooks in the kitchen that is probably one of the most brutal scenes I have ever witnessed in a film, and this sequence alone is enough to make anyone thinking of seeing it to think twice.
That said it is also a touching and moving film of hope and faith under the most dire of situations that made me say thank you for the modest, creative and mostly peaceful life that I lead. I know this might sound crazy to say but it is also a beautiful film to look at, with rich colors and textures. Also the young cast is superb especially Armando Espitia who plays Heli and Andrea Vergara who plays his young sister. See at your own risk and don’t blame me for your nightmares.