Female Filmmaker Friday: La Quinceañera (2017) [Horrible Imaginings Film Festival 2018]

On the evening of her quinceañera, Alejandra witnesses the slaughter of her family. With the few surviving members, they set out of make things right.

Created and written by Shane McKenzie and Gigi Saul Guerrero with the latter directing, La Quinceañera started off as a series of webisodes and then became a feature with all the episodes gathered together in one feature. The film version is easy to watch with separate chapters that lead the story from a sweet start to a very bloody ending. The characters built here are strong and work together in a way that is natural and very much like a family.

The leads of Alejandra and Abuela are two badass ladies who do what they are to when the moment comes. They are built to be strong and to be powerful leaders and characters. The way they are brought to the screen brings them into the pantheon of badass ladies of cinema, alongside characters like Sarah Connor, Beatrix Kiddo, and Lady Snowblood. The rest of the family gets dispatched more or less violently with just one more survivor making it far into the story. The film has a lot of good elements amongst the violence and just a few issues such as the sexually promiscuous aunty getting punished for it which is frustrating in this setting of badass women, but does kind of fit with the kind of things the bad guys do in this film.

Playing our leads of Alejandra and Abuela are actresses Mia Xitlali and Gabriela Reynoso who both give strong performances emotionally and physically. They are filled with emotions and show just the right amount of them throughout the film and the insanity they are put through. When they decide to turn the tables, they become two of the strongest women in film in a while, strong ladies who are ready to do anything for their family and to make things right. These two performances make the film and show how the selection process for the cast and the direction as well as the writing all influence how a cast can truly shine. Giving another strong performance that grabs the viewer and doesn’t let go as long as he is on screen is actor Mathias Retamal as Chavo, the de facto leader of the gang who comes to slaughter the family and generally make them hurt. He plays the man with such evil, he plays him in such a way that while he comes off completely evil, he also comes off charismatic and shows how he could easily lead a band of people into violence and mayhem. Worth noting are actors Victor Ayala and Gustavo Gomez who both turn in great performances.

As La Quinceañera was shot as a series, the cinematography, editing, and music needed to be on point and to be cohesive throughout the entire run of it, especially as it has now been turned into one feature length film. These are done respectively by long time Guerrero collaborator Luke Bramley, Alex Marquez, and Chase Horseman. The visual and musical styles brought to the film are perfect for the story and settings, bringing to mind the early work of Robert Rodriguez and maybe even a little Kill Bill. The music is particularly great here with just the right pieces put in just the right places, making it feel like a great attention was paid to not just what is on the screen but also what hits the viewer’s ears.

La Quinceañera is a solid film made from a webseries that keeps the episodic format by separating the film into chapters and connecting everything in a way that feels like it was made to be a feature film. It’s one of those films that shows the writers, director, cast, and the rest of the crew have paid attention, have learned, and have applied great attention to what they do and should be doing so in the future as well. Not only does it show a ton of talent, it shows that they all know how to apply this talent to make big, badass stories into reality on the big screen. This is one to catch in cinemas if possible as it just immerses the viewer into that story and the world presented. Abuela should be proud.

Get some of Gigi’s work here.