Avery Taggert is a war photographer. A dang good one. She is willing to put herself at risk to capture the moment or break the story. But an action hero she is not. Fortunately, Zoë Bell is, and she gives a masterful ass-kicking adrenaline rush performance as Taggert in Josh C. Waller’s new film, CAMINO. Set in 1985, Camino finds Taggert embedded with a charismatic Spaniard known as ‘El Guero’ who is bringing hope and revolution to the jungles of Colombia. When she snaps a photo of something she should not have seen, an image with the potential to discredit the ‘missionary,’ she flees into the jungle, knowing full well this violent psychopath will do anything to destroy her and the damning photograph. Featuring TIME CRIMES writer/director Nacho Vigalondo as one of the most charming and scene-stealing villains ever, CAMINO was easily a highlight at Fantastic Fest where it premiered.

Director Waller (one third of the SpectreVision team) had previously teamed up with Bell on girl-prison-fight film RAZE, but in this case Bell, who came into acting through stunt work, has a bit more to play with from a performance standpoint. This is a courageous woman who finds herself in a terrifying situation, even though she is very resourceful, she is still a normal person. She spends most of the film running, falling, getting beat up, but there is a fantastic emotional spine to this character – a strength and heart that we would never get to see if this was Rambo or any other ex-special ops type. Plus the film is just fun. It’s intense, but there is a lot of humor throughout. Waller was one of the minds responsible for COOTIES, possible the best and funniest Zombie flick since SHAUN OF THE DEAD. In CAMINO, like that film, he effortlessly moves back and forth from bold characters that put smiles on our face to life-or-death situations. The first half of Camino really sets up El Guero’s troops, and all the personalities that will come into play during the chase. Each character stands out as a distinct type of follower, a member of this army, and the actors fill even the small parts with life. Once Taggert snaps the photo, all the loyalties become strained and we see how far these missionaries are willing to follow their leader. The inter-personal conflict heightens the action sequences to make this movie far more than just a run in a jungle.

Zoë Bell just keeps getting better. There is no ensemble to protect Bell. She is on her own, both as a character and an actress. The grueling and physical shoot was probably the easiest thing about the role for her, as I think Camino really is the first film of her career where she fully realizes a complex and emotionally driven character. Taggert may travel light, with just a camera in her hands, but she is still weighed down by her past and feelings of guilt. Out in the jungles, with a madman on her tail, she must contemplate her life as if its about to end, and stay a few feet ahead of death. It is exhilarating to watch. And Vigalondo is the perfect foil, in the Gene-Hackman-as-Lex-Luther mold – a madman you can’t help but love. Like Bell, the director (I loved his Sasha Grey Elijah Wood starring Open Windows) is developing as an actor. He has always been fantastic in his own shorts and I hope more directors find perfect roles like this for him – Camino really proves he can hold a screen hostage and bend it to his will as a performer as well.

So what’s not to like about Camino? Honestly, I can’t think of anything. The film reminds me most of COLOMBIANA, with another ass-kicking heroine (coincidentally played by an actress named Zoe) who survives by her skills and wits because she has to. CAMINO arrives in theaters on March 4th, and on VOD the 8th. I had a chance to sit down with Waller, Bell, and Vigalondo at Fantastic Fest last September, my interview follows the trailer.

BEARS: Congratulations on a pretty kickass movie. I thought it was a really great choice to make her a journalist, in the field, ‘cause it’s a courageous job, but not necessarily an ass-kicking job, you know? It’d be easy for her to be an ex-soldier or something like that. Was that one of the foundations of the script?

WALLER: The original idea came when we were actually shooting [SpectreVision film] THE BOY in Colombia. I was like, “How can we take advantage of the jungles, or the landscapes that are here, without children, having to build a motel from the ground up, having to burn it down, having to ship this, this, and that?” I was just like, “Hmmmm, how can we strip away all the production shit that I hate, and like try to do something simple?”

BEARS: Right, let’s just walk around in the jungle for a while.

Director Josh C. Waller

Director Josh C. Waller

WALLER: Which was quite literally it, I just want to run through the jungles and  make something fun.” So, and with the character being a journalist it felt more interesting than having it be a soldier. But, the weird thing is that these war-time journalists are embedded and often times see more war than most soldiers. Because, they don’t just go to like one tour. You see war photographers that have actually seen more combat than most soldiers. And also suffer from PTSD and all the things that come with being a soldier, even though they didn’t have the same training as all those soldiers who deal with that. In fact, it’s almost a more compromising and vulnerable position because they’re in a squad, in the middle of a battle, and everyone else has a gun, and they have a camera.

BEARS: Also, a journalist is a thinker, moving history forward. It allowed for deeper conversations that I don’t think you would get if this was like, PREDATOR. So….

WALLER: But I love Predator.

BEARS: Well, I do, too. It’s one of my favorite movies all time.

BELL: Me, too.

WALLER: I did wanna have the part where the two of ‘em first meet and just do the highfive with like their biceps [like in Predator]

BELL: We should’ve done it, just in the special features.

WALLER: It’s like with Alison Pill when we were doing COOTIES, she’s like walking through the air ducts, she turns on the flashlight and she’s like, “Come out to the coast, we’ll get a few drinks, have a few laughs,” and then turns out the flashlight [a la DIEHARD]– we don’t have it in the movie, but.

VIGALONDO: Which movie are you talking about?

BELL: Predator.

VIGALONDO: Which one is that?

BEARS: Arnold Schwarzennegar and there’s an alien that’s coming down, for fun.

WALLER: Predator.

VIGALONDO: Oh yeah, no yeah, that. Sorry, they have different titles in Spanish, in Spain they have different titles. In Spain it was called Vagina Mouth.

BELL: This was a whole set up. He just set you up right there.

BEARS: Oh yes, okay. Totally fell for that. Okay, so, did you write this always with Zoe in mind?

WALLER: We wrote it with Zoe and Nacho in mind, and Pako [Francisco Barreiro who plays Tomas in the film]. I came up with it for a friend while we were in Colombia and he was in The Boy with us and we started getting into this story, and I called him, because we’re buddies, and was just like, “Man, I think I just re-cast you.” He was like, “What?!” And I was like, “Well, I think it might be interesting if it’s Zoe Bell.” And there was like this long silence. And he was like, “Alright, that’s pretty cool, I guess I see that.”

BEARS: So what did you think when you read the script for the first time?

BELL: Josh rang me, and sort of just did the verbal pitch. And he did the verbal pitch with the photographer being a guy. And I was like, “Fuck, that sounds like an awesome film.” And I thought he was telling me that I was gonna be the photographer’s dead wife. And I was like, “Alright, I wanna be in this movie.” I already loved the principle of it, and at one point I was like, “Well, could he be a she?” And he was like, “Well that’s why I’m calling you.” It’s one of those brilliant moments that I’ve realized is rare in an actor’s career when a role comes up that’s available to you and it’s something you really want to do. As an actor you kind of get used to feeling that you should just say yes to jobs, yes to work. I would’ve fought for this role, you know? And so when I first read the script that he and Dan wrote, I was just like, “Yes! There’s the script that is written by intelligent people about a brilliant story idea that I’m going to be in.”

BEARS: Well, I think one of the things that was so great about your role is that it’s so grounded in reality. I mean it would be easy to just do the last two-thirds of the film where it’s just running through the jungle. There’s the whole back story of having the one roll of film that she’s holding on to, holding on to this lost relationship.

BELL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. When he described it, he was describing Avery as a guy and he was this tormented, twisted like, he was an unhappy character. And so when I realized it was her, it was so relieving to have this character that was just kind of fucked up in a mess [already]and then walked into this situation. Like, she was already layered in real, and yeah she wasn’t like, ex-Marine, she wasn’t, she was just fucked up and in a hard situation, and her situation actually became hard.

BEARS: But she also didn’t have anything to lose, really.

BELL: Her career means that she had been around these kinds of things. She had watched people teaching other people to shoot. She’d been with people that had to like, kill animals to feed. So, it was like she had, by osmosis, these skill sets available to her, but she had never had to use them because she wasn’t an action hero, she was a photographer. She just ended up in this situation where now she was having to utilize – you know what I mean?

BEARS: And she’s certainly seen enough of these messiah type warlords to understand why people follow them, and he’s just so damn charming –

BELL: He’s like Hitler.

VIGALONDO: Little Hitler.

BEARS: But because you’ve seen it before, you are also hyper-aware that there may be more to him than meets the eyes.

VIGALONDO: I get used to offers like, small roles or cameos, because I’m known as a director, so when Josh called about a role in his film, I expected like, I knew it was a movie in which he wasn’t to be the hero – I wanted to be the villain. So, I expected something like an appearance at the end or behind the curtain. Something funny, episodic, small, contained, and when I read, I was like, “This crazy guy.” I mean, this really, crazy guy in the middle of the jungle and screaming and trying to manipulate all these characters. I was really scared at the beginning. I was really, really scared.
BELL: Nervous.

VIGALONDO: Scared.

BEARS: Well, he’s good with his words, you know? That’s the thing I love about him. I mean, I think he knows he’s a fraud – he’s avoided something in Spain and is running from some history in the past, but he’s re-invented himself.

VIGALONDO: That is the mystery about some people. You can get a guy that knows that he’s liar, but at the same time he’s convinced that he’s amazing because he lacks self-criticism. If you’re not able to question yourself, you can become this kind of crazy guy that at the same time, he knows, because he knows he’s a total manipulative —

WALLER: But he’s lying for a good reason.

VIGALONDO: but at the same time he’s convinced that everything he says is true. Which is a totally paradoxical situation, but we all met people like that.

BEARS: I almost feel like he could’ve been a success and maybe he would’ve been a good leader.

WALLER: He would probably be one hell of a politician, but look, I mean, Hitler was a good leader as well. People don’t always know when they’re evil.

VIGALONDO: The guy’s helping people.

BEARS: Yes. I think he really thinks the end justifies the means.

BELL: You meet the people who, if they didn’t believe themselves, their own hype, their own bullshit, to a certain degree they would have to question everything about themselves and their life, so it’s like, not only do they believe that about themselves, they’ll die to protect that.

VIGALONDO: Who considers [themselves]evil? There’s nobody – I’m pretty sure that there’s nobody around who is evil.

BELL: Because that character doesn’t consider themselves evil, otherwise they would be considering themselves, and they don’t.

BEARS: Right, well that’s why every actor needs to study like, Richard the III, because he’s fully convinced that he’s doing the right thing for his country, as he’s killing people off.

WALLER: Right.

BEARS: Last question, I love that the film was called Camino and there’s just a hint of dialogue in the woods where they talk about it and we understand why. I love how understated it is.

WALLER: I think that titles are so important, you know? Filmmakers and writers have different outlooks on film titles. Some people think the title’s not important and whatever happens, happens. I tend to be the kind of person where a title will actually help lead me into what the film is going to be.

BEARS: Absolutely.

WALLER: With COOTIES it was literally me with my niece and she’s playing cooties. And I was like, “That’s a fucking virus, cooties.” And then I was like, “This has to have been done before,” and looked it up and was like, “It hasn’t been done before!” … With this, she’s on a path, she’s on a journey. And it was like, “Well that means ‘camino,’” which was, for me, being raised in California, I’ve heard the word camino my entire life, the El Camino Real, it’s the 101 basically. Knowing that the title was quite literally ‘path,’ that kind of opened it up for us to really focus on telling each character’s journey within the world of her journey, you know?

BEARS: Right, all the minor characters have such nice arcs, which is, really refreshing.

WALLER: Thank you. It’s also really nice to be working with actors where it’s not dialogue-driven, it’s just solely, I mean, look, Sheila Vand, you put the camera on Sheila Vand and she makes like one look, and you’re like, you know what she’s trying to say. Same thing with Pako, you know? Francisco Barreiro and Tenoch Huerta. It’s like, point the camera at them and they just make a little look and you’re like, “I got it.”

BEARS: Right. it makes the shoot easier, and you can cut words out of the script. It’s a nice tight film, too. It’s not long.

WALLER: And I remember a teacher I had years ago saying the dialogue isn’t always necessary. It’s like, if you watched a lot of the silent films, you got it, you’re not hearing anything, there’s obviously not tons of dialogue and it’s interesting to try to look at films- current films and watch them…

BELL: Silently

WALLER: … watch them on mute. Obviously if it’s a film that you’ve seen before then, it doesn’t really count. But like, you can watch some scenes and if it still carries, then, in my opinion, you know that you have a strong film. There should only be dialogue in films when you need dialogue to push the story forward. They don’t want to have talking just to have talking. We weren’t making a David Mamet film.

BEARS: But then you get someone like Nacho’s character and his character loves to talk. That’s why he brought her. He doesn’t think, “Oh, she’s only going to take pictures.” He feels like there’s a microphone on all the time.

BELL: I’m his stage, it’s like I’m his stage.

WALLER: That’s why I love the scene at the campfire.

WALLER: Because it’s happened after he has this little slip up, in front of the camera singing into the AK [his gun]. It’s like, afterwards, when he has his whole little missionary speak, and it’s like, “‘Cause we are missionaries! Okay so, raise your glasses, raise your glasses.” You know, he’s trying to put on a show for the photographer.

CAMINO arrives in theaters on March 4th, and on VOD the 8th.

Bears Fonte covers indie film for AMFM Magazine and programs and consults for film festivals nationwide.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival as well as the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival.  His short The Secret Keeper played at 40 festivals, his feature iCrime was released in 2011 by Vicious Circle.

 

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