Skater punks Miguel and Johnny are your typical disaffected youth in a major urban city. They stay up all night, sleep in late, take drugs to their heart’s desire and seemingly skate the rest of the time.
In between that, they also sell blood to local emergency rooms and ambulances, herding their friends, girlfriends, acquaintances and, quite literally, any Joe Blow they can find on the street to fill up a pint of blood in exchange for money. Business seems to be going well. So well, in fact, that Techno, one of Miguel’s friends has been selling his blood so often that he has become prone to fainting on the subway from exhaustion.
But all of that changes when Miguel (Diego Calva) and Johnny (Eduardo Martinez) are presented with a new offer. Their connection needs 50 “cows,” as they call the blood providers, to give their blood for a drug cartel-related job. Miguel and Johnny, still kids, have never done a job like this, but the pay – three times the going rate – is too much of an enticement for them to turn away.
They set off for their bounty, bringing in friends, Johnny’s girlfriend, Adri, and some of the employees at the cabaret that Miguel’s mother runs, including the elderly manager, Juanito. When they all meet up at the location for the blood transfusion, the motley crue consists of neighborhood women, elderly men who can barely walk and random people they picked up from a local park.
Then the man in charge of the operation shows up in a spruced up SUV with extravagant chrome rims and it is immediately clear that Miguel and Johnny are way in over their heads. He forces Miguel to sell him his father’s Jeep and, as if anyone had missed the veiled threat, pulls out a gun while inspecting the car to remind Miguel that the sale is not an option.
Director Julio Hernández Cordón takes a masterful jab at American viewers by having the cartel operator bark out orders to his henchmen in perfect English, an implication of the United States’ role in Mexico’s drug wars.
When the “cows” see the man running the operation and the beat-up moving trailer they are expected to get into to go get their blood taken, they let their discomfort be known. But by this point, leaving is not an option. As the man in charge says, they can either get in the trailer or his two muscle men can force them in there.
From there, the plan devolves rapidly. At a certain point in the movie, the viewer knows things have gone terribly wrong for Miguel and Johnny. But just when you think things have gotten bad, they get even worse.
Watching the film and its strong performances, you wouldn’t know that most of these actors are not traditionally trained. The director, Julio Hernández Cordón, cast the movie using Facebook, specifically to look for actors who had experience different than his own classical training. But the chemistry and performances from Calva and Martinez are especially worth noting because they explore the attraction and relationship between two gay men in the heart of a Mexican city, a subject that is still taboo.
Miguel, one half of the duo, is a rich kid with all the advantages of life going for him. He lives in a posh home with a security fence, has an in-house maid (Brenda, Johnny’s mom) and drives a fancy Jeep given to him by his father (the archetype mirrey that has arisen in Mexico in recent years). But for some reason, he chooses to slum it with Johnny and other skater punks, who skate and idle all day.
Part of that may be a teenage rebellion to his mother kicking his gay lover, Johnny, out of the house, a move that seems to only fuel Miguel and Johnny’s tortured relationship. As the film goes on, however, it is unclear whether Johnny ever fully reciprocates Miguel’s feelings. At times, it seems that Johnny, who represents Mexico’s poor, is only using the relationship and the sex he offers Miguel, to take advantage of him. After all, Johnny has a girlfriend, Adri, and repeatedly brings her along to things that Miguel jealously says are supposed to be “his.”
And before all is said and done, Johnny delivers a blow to Miguel that is more hurtful than the presence of Adri at moments that were supposed to be intimately between he and Miguel.
And it is then, that Hernández Cordón really brings the story home. When things are at their worst, Johnny realizes that although he loves his mother, he cannot count on the poor woman from a rural area to achieve the things he wants. While the ungrateful Miguel only has to call his tony mother to pick him up from a hotel and has everything resolved for him.
The message, Hernández Cordón seems to say, is this: In Mexico, if you have money, all will be well. Impunity can not reach you. If you are poor, you are on your own.
Through his 88-minute film, Hernández Cordón, tries to tell the unadulterated story of Mexico today. That story, although told from the lens of disaffected youth, hits on many of the country’s struggles: impunity in the face of crime and corruption, a stigma around homosexuality and a deep divide between the rich and the poor.
But one scene encapsulates Hernández Cordón’s big picture look at Mexico today. As Johnny and Miguel roam the city after their deal with the drug cartel has gone wrong, Miguel suddenly lashes out in frustration and starts banging his skateboard against a fence on the bridge they’re crossing. He bangs his skateboard against that fence with such wild fury that he seems to physically wear himself out and collapses to the floor. Johnny holds him in his arms affectionately, trying to calm him down. Then, a man walks by, stepping around and over them without even stopping to look at them or ask what’s wrong.
Who is that man? Could he be Mexico’s civic and political class, which for too long has stayed quiet against the corruption in that country, or the outside world, which knows what is happening and hardly lifts a finger to help?