In immigration stories, which we all have seen many of, there are always victims and perpetrators. As far as stories at the US-Mexico border, we most often classify the victims as the ones trying to come in and the perpetrators as the ones wanting to keep them out. But immigration stories start long before the actual moment in which someone crosses the border. For a migrant, that moment is often preceded by many challenges, including walking and surviving areas controlled by drug cartels where victims and aggressors collide. Identifying Features, released this weekend, is a movie by first time director Fernanda Valadez that considers the goodness and the badness that exist within all humans and the vulnerable moments that determine in which of those sides we’ll stand. 

In Identifying Features, Magdalena (played by Mercedes Hernandez), is a mother in search of a son that disappeared en route to the US border. Traveling through various landscapes of northern Mexico, she meets Miguel (David Illescas), a young man recently deported from the US who is in search of his mother. They accompany one another as Magdalena continues to look for her son and Miguel returns to his hometown, a place that has become a dangerous area under cartel control. 

This is not a happy story, nor is it the type that’ll drive you to tears. It’s shocking, a bit terrifying even, and not in a hugely graphic way, but mostly because it achieves the element of surprise. It makes you consider the unfortunate path faced by migrants even within their own country, riddled with the possibility of disappearance or perhaps of ending up in a mass grave at the hand of those who are actually their own. 

Identifying Features is 94-minutes long, in Spanish with English subtitles. You can rent it now for $12 from