Border Crossing Nightmares: Gigi Saul Guerrero’s "Dead Crossing" and Female-Directed Latinx Horror

Curator's Note

In terms of sheer numbers, the dominant output of female-directed horror films occurs in the short form. Mexican-Canadian director Gigi Saul Guerrero’s credits are representative of what it means to be a prolific, though still under-recognized, female filmmaker working exclusively in horror.  With her company Luchagore Productions, Guerrero has directed nearly twenty short films and various TV episodes. Recently she worked with Blumhouse to develop her first feature-length project, Culture Shock (2019), which premiered on July 4th as the Independence Day segment of Hulu’s horror series Into the Dark. Her works-in-progress, however, are listed as shorts in upcoming anthology horror collections. Guerrero’s career reflects that of many other women working in the independent film industry in general, and horror in particular—comprising numerous short projects or collaborations in anthologies and, with luck, a single feature.

Guerrero’s extensive work in shorts also reveals another facet of the independent horror film industry in the twenty-first century. Due to more accessible equipment and affordable production costs offered by digital technology, aspiring filmmakers from underrepresented ethnic or socioeconomic groups are better positioned to build a filmmaking career. Through her use of gore combined with her attention to Latinx communities and traumas, Guerrero joins many other contemporary female horror directors of color, such as Monika Estrella Negra (Flesh, 2016) and Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid, 2017) in creating highly-charged political content that reflects under-seen ethnic, racial, or national perspectives in the genre.

Guerrero’s first short Dead Crossing (2011) anticipates the nightmare she later explores in Culture Shock by narrativizing border-crossing as a horrific experience. It also introduces her as a filmmaker who uses grindhouse aesthetics as a tool for critiquing and embodying the fears imposed by the United States government onto Mexican refugees. Although Culture Shock is post-Trump, Dead Crossing demonstrates that border relations have long predated the current political landscape as topics of fear, trauma, and brutality for Mexican citizens hoping to flee the country. Guerrero’s imagining of border security at its most hostile illuminates the risks everyday families face when crossing the border under “normal” circumstances, and ultimately suggests that the violence Mexicans are subjected to leads to ongoing traumatic and physical consequences on both sides of the border. 


A colleague and I were just talking about this same disappointing trend earlier this week, Sonia.  Even outside of horror, so many female directors are industrially blocked from continuing beyond their freshman, sophomore, or junior film, usually ending up with careers in television (I'm thinking of someone like Rachel Talalay) or with gaps between releases that are far longer than what most male filmmakers experience (I'm thinking of Alice Wu).  You drawing attention here to the short film format as a growing opportunity for female filmmakers to produce work and gain appreciation - especially thanks to platforms like YouTube and Vimeo as well as the availability of equipment that you mention - is very valuable to the week's discussion.  Do you think the horror genre, in particular - because of a "built-in," avid fanbase and easily marketable conventions - provides a greater likelihood for female filmmakers who are starting out to break into the industry?  In your research, does it seem like more female directors start out working in the horror genre?

Thanks so much for your reply, Jayson! I do think the horror genre provides a lot of opportunities for female filmmakers that other genres may not. There's a growing support network for aspiring filmmakers fueled by women's horror film festivals and initiatives like Women In Horror Month, and many filmmakers I've spoken to have credited the built-in fanbase you mention as a huge incentive for continuing to make horror. But although there is a built-in audience for independent horror as well, there's still not a lot of money to go around, and filmmakers (at least in the US, which doesn't have the same governmental film funding options as in Europe or Australia) often use DIY funding sources like crowdsourcing or their savings. So while the social and support networks are stronger, I don't necessarily know that conditions are better for women hoping to make a career out of horror filmmaking. Certainly there are more women now turning to horror than ever before, but I wouldn't say that most female filmmakers today start out in the genre. 

This is a wonderful piece, Sonia, thanks so much for sharing your insights on this topic!  I'm so glad you mentioned Tigers are Not Afraid, too; I think this is such a gem of a film, that will hopefully open up the floodgates, along with the other films you mentioned, for more Latinx-directed horror in the US. 

As I read your piece, I was sort of reminder of the trio of Mexican directors - Del Toro, Cuaron, and Inarritu - who have seemed to have so much (relatively effortless) recent success industrially as well as commercially.  Do you think that there are larger implications for gender when it comes to Latinx horror filmmaking, and Latinx filmmaking as a whole?  That is, do you think the same conditions of female horror filmmaking (starting off in the short form, then transitioning to relative success in television and other non-commercial endeavors) would persist if men were to direct the same types of films? 

Thanks for your comments and questions! I don't know enough about film production in Mexico specifically to be able to answer too thoroughly in regard to Del Toro, Cuaron, and Inarritu, but it does strike me that all three emerged around the same time--Del Toro and Cuaron started out making shorts in the late 1980s and their careers took off in the 1990s, and all three had their first real hits come out around 2000 or 2001. All three started out by making two or three short films before launching into features, which is very common for filmmakers in general. In recent years, I think the "big break" into features is harder for aspiring filmmakers to reach (maybe due to higher numbers of emerging filmmakers and other factors), and many end up working in shorts (both men and women). So I wonder if the answer has more to do with the conditions of filmmaking at the time when Del Toro, Cuaron, and Inarritu's careers took off, which was also around the time of the "indie" boom. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that female filmmakers face more barriers than male filmmakers in the horror industry, and I'm certain that this is also the case for Latinx practitioners as well. That being said, although I don't know too much about them, there must be a number of male horror filmmakers coming out of Mexico and other Latin countries who also struggle to get their careers going.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.