This film offers a deeply symbolic portrait of violence plaguing a rural Mexican village and the psychological trauma it engenders on its residents, including kids.
The ending of Prayers for the Stolen involves an escape, a snapshot of people on the run that feels all too familiar. Understanding the abyss they must escape (or risk dying) could be this film's essential contribution to a global conversation about immigration and refugees.
And more than that, the movie is a compelling, emotional, beautifully-shot and compellingly acted two hours. The allegorical use of the land and the animal world of the lush mountain setting works to illustrate the villagers' deep and potentially lifesaving connection to their natural surroundings as well as how that setting in turn shapes their lives.
Prayers stars three main characters, first as young girls whose imaginary play hints at the constant threats they face, and later as giddy adolescents discovering boys and the adult world. Theirs is a reality where a girl's first period is cause for dire fear, where schoolteachers constantly come and go under threat by local cartels, where absentee fathers send money home from faraway jobs (or stop doing so), and where locals survive by harvesting the very poppy fields which feed an industry that's killing them and their way of life in ways both evident (deadly seasonal fumigations and regular disappearances) and subtle (men moving away or getting caught up in the cartels).
With a background in documentaries, director Tatiana Huezo and her cinematographer Dariela Ludlow aren't afraid to settle into ambient noise and slowly unfolding moments, nor to let the camera linger on faces, landscapes, and insects. This languid mood infuses the drama with images, moments, and ideas that stay with you well after the end of the film.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.