Contrary to the name of the film, Hostile Border (originally titled "Pocha: Manifest Destiny") isn't about the U.S./Mexico border, not directly anyway, although it does play somewhat of a part in the film. Michael Dwyer directs his first feature film, but his work to bring Kaitlin McLaughlin's ambitious script to life struggles to find its footing.
Claudia (Veronica Sixtos), an early twenty-something living illegally in the U.S., struggles along with her mother in order to make ends meet. When she's caught by the FBI for credit card fraud, Claudia is deported back to Mexico, a country she's never called home. Called "pocha" for not knowing how to speak Spanish, she takes up residence at her father's (Julio Cedillo) cattle ranch.
With lots of land and smugglers trying to use it in order to cut across in order to make it easier for their illegal dealings, Claudia finds herself in the midst of it all after one of her father's ranchers (Jorge Jimenez) disappears. Claudia agrees to work with a foreign smuggler (Roberto Urbina) in order to make lots of money fast enough to get back to the U.S. Of course, things spiral out of her control and she finds herself in the middle of the smugglers and the authorities.
Hostile Border starts off intriguingly enough, but quickly spirals downward without ever gaining any momentum. The film has a lot of complex themes, but never explores all of them. It doesn't help that Claudia isn't a fully realized character who barely speaks throughout the entire film. Veronica Sixtos' facial expressions remain firmly in a scowl and the script doesn't serve to offer us any true insight into her character or her motivations. The only time there's any remote expression on her part is during her angry sex scenes with Roberto Urbina.
The film has a few moments where its melodrama works to its benefit, most especially when Julio Cedillo's character is involved. The themes of not belonging in one's "homeland" and the complexities of the situations the film presents are strong as ideas, but they die quickly in the midst of the film's clunky execution. Hostile Border is vague at best and tries to ramp up the suspense, but the lack of investment in its lead character is what truly holds the film back.
Claudia as a character is not open, which prevents us from grasping her story in any capacity. Even her choice in the film's final moments make absolutely no sense. More importantly, the film struggles with its own themes. Was it circumstance that Claudia ended up in the position she's in? Is it inevitable that being in Mexico means she'd get mixed up in illegal activity? Are these her choices or part of some destiny, as the original title suggests? All of these questions are fascinating in and of themselves, but Dwyer and McLaughlin struggle with answering any of them.