Reel Reviews | Heroic (Sundance ’23)

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

A young man enters a Mexican military academy to support his family.  Unfortunately, he finds the experience to be less than educational in the thriller, Heroic.

Luis (Santiago Sandoval Carbajal) has been accepted into Heroic Military College where boys are turned into men and soldiers are turned into leaders.  His motivations are to get medical insurance to take care of his diabetic mother, make a stable life so he can marry his girlfriend, and follow in his estranged father’s footsteps.  Once he enters the school he befriends several of his fellow “colts” as normal schoolmates do.  However, when his commanding officer takes Luis under his wing, protecting him from hazing and giving him other preferential treatment, his classmates begin to lose trust in him.  As they wonder why he is receiving such favor, Luis wonders the same thing.  Soon he realizes the school that is supposed to be making him a perfect soldier may be creating a monster.

Written and directed by David Zonana, Heroic stars Santiago Sandoval Carbajal, Fernando Cuautle, Monica del Carmen, Esteban Caicedo, Carlos Gerardo, and Isabel Yudice. This is Zonana’s second feature-length film as a director.

Heroic plays like a psychological thriller because most of the terror in the movie is cerebral in nature.  While Commander Sierra inflicts physical terror upon Luis’ company mates, he messes with the fragile nature of Luis, twisting it and creating a monster in his image.  As a result, throughout the movie, Luis becomes more and more engaged in extremely vivid, violent, and disturbing nightmares.  Prophetic in nature, the visions alternate between foreboding revelation and dark desires. The nightmares are so real sometimes that even the audience has trouble discerning reality from dreams.

Luis’ dreams become one of the major problems for the movie.  Unfortunately, it becomes too hard to differentiate what’s real from what is a dream. Instead of giving the audience a look into the mind of Luis, essentially, the audience gets lost in the narrative and is therefore unable to reach a conclusion.

This sort of nebulous conclusion seems to be a trademark of Zonana.  It his first feature Workforce (Mano de Obra), Zonana ends his film without coming to a complete stop, leaving the audience to wonder what comes next. Something can be said for a director who gives the audience the space to think and debate after a movie ends.  Sometimes that dialogue makes the movie more worthwhile. Unfortunately, the technique was not successfully employed in Workforce and it is even more unsuccessful in this feature. In the previous movie though, the ending was just dissatisfying.  In Heroic, no one can tell what the ending was.

In Spanish with subtitles

Grade:  C