Waking to find the disappearance of her sister, Sarita (Karen Martínez) travels to the coastal town of Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. Desperate for answers, Sarita dives headfirst into Puerto Barrios’ gang circle, risking her life and finding her courage along the way.

From the outset, Cadejo Blanco is a “simple” tale about a woman’s determination to find her missing sister. However, as you begin to fall deeper within the criminal underbelly of Puerto Barrios just as Sarita does, a rich and moving tale begins to unfold. Immediately introduced to the viewer as an introvert, Sarita’s transformation into a member of a gang is jarring, but in a meaningful way. The viewers are introduced to her in contrast with her overly outgoing sister, Bea (Pamela Martínez) so as Sarita begins her journey, her slow transformation is what roots the viewer into sticking around. You become invested in Sarita’s well-being and watching her “lose” herself with each moment in the gang is captivating, albeit heartbreaking.

This is a testament to Martinez’s performance as it’s incredibly nuanced and potent. It’s apparent that she understood the weight of the script and followed the direction of Justin Lerner to help create a well-rounded protagonist. Lerner, who also holds the writing credit, created a film that humanized each of its characters to the point where, despite their circumstances, you couldn’t help but root for them. This is by far the film’s greatest strength and is something Lerner and his team should be proud of.

Upon researching the creation of this film, I discovered that Lerner spent two years talking with the youth in Puerto Barrios and used those stories to help craft his film. He even hired some of these youths to be a part of the film. If this is true, it is no wonder the story, directing, and acting all seemed so effortless and believable – they are rooted in reality.

All in all, Cadejo Blanco provides an engaging and intimate exploration of the depths people will go for the ones they love and the price they are willing to pay to get there. Through nuanced performances, engaging storytelling, and overall good direction, this film is a must-watch drama for anyone interested in crime, revenge stories, or simply a strong heroine.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewed on October 3, 2021 at Toronto International Film Festival. Rating: TBC. Running time: 125 min. 

PRODUCTION: In association with 30WEST and Cine Caribe, Imperative Entertainment presents a La Danta Films production. Producers: Mauricio Escobar, Ryan Friedkin, Jack Patrick Hurley, & Justin Lerner. Executive Producers: Juan I. Ayau, Cesar Diaz, Pamela Guinea, & Francisco Palarea. Associate Producers: Fernando Chocano, Michael J. Gallagher, & Jana Winternitz.

CREW: Director/Writer: Justin Lerner. Editing: Cesar Diaz & Justin Lerner. Music: Jonatan Szer. Cinematography: Roman Kasseroller.

CAST: Karen Martínez, Rudy Rodriguez, Pamela Martínez, Brandon López, & Juan Pablo Olyslager.

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