Before Bajo La Sal, I had wondered aloud, when will Mexico’s weirdo’s get their chance, where’s their movie? The murders in Ciudad Juarez have captivated the nation for more than a decade and each month, there seems to be a contest between common criminals for sheer brutality and innovation in killing people. Of course, this is not the concern of Bajo La Sal, but it goes to show that this movie, while treading familiar territory, still manages to shock and surprise you even in light of what is going on in Mexico right now.
Victor, the main character, is a social outcast who dabbles in making disturbing home-made horror films when not helping out his dad at the funeral parlor. Ricardo Polanco does a good job of playing a creepy high school loser with way too much time on his hands as he becomes a wannabe private investigator. However, he is able to steer the character from a one-dimensional figure. Probably the most illuminating scene in the film is when we see Victor asleep to a horror movie showing on his TV. All of a sudden, grainy images appear and it is later revealed to be his late mother. It is minor scenes such as this that truly make the viewers identify with Victor beyond him being loner.
The character of Comandante Trujillo (Humberto Zurita) gives the film a good twist as it is at once, a creepy tale of murder as well as a classic whodunit and a police procedural film. Zurita’s portrayal of a veteran cop is just great; he is simply unable to be read well and certain actions left the audience in gasped silence. One of the great things about this film is that equal time is given to both characters, each on his quest to solve a murder mystery and alleviate past pains.
As for the direction, Mario Muñoz makes the unconventional decision to use Victor’s home-made horror films as a window into his psyche. While it seems like a gimmick at first, the end result fits rather nicely into the themes of the film such as treasuring what is left of a desolate existence. Muñoz never gives the audience a clue on who is the actual murderer, successfully misleading the audience into believing who the killer is until the final moments of the film.
The director is also able to make a film that while sharing superficial similarities with the murders in Juarez, does not attempt to make a social message with Bajo La Sal, as doing so would only serve to bog down the movie. Muñoz chooses to keep the messages lean and mean, much to the film’s benefit. While the idea of a weird small town is not new, the clichés are kept to a minimum and all there really is, is good acting, directing and good music, especially if it includes Radiohead as the end credits. As the tagline states, “some things are better left underneath”. In this case, this is buried treasure and it deserves to be dug up.