Gigi Saul Guerrero read the original script for Culture Shock and told the studio it wasn’t Mexican enough, and it needed to be.
It was a bold move for Guerrero, at the time an emerging Vancouver filmmaker who’d recently signed with an American agent and was in the midst of her first negotiation with a big-deal Hollywood production house — in this case, Blumhouse, who was producing an anthology series of feature-length horror films for Hulu and was on the hunt for directors.
One of Blumhouse’s scripts (then titled The Crossing, and ultimately titled Culture Shock) dealt with the mistreatment of migrants at the Mexico-United States border. It’s a topic that Guerrero — a Mexican immigrant to Canada — had dealt with in 2014 in her critically acclaimed grindhouse short film, El Gigante.
This previous experience piqued Blumhouse’s interest, and after they screened El Gigante, they sent Guerrero the script so that she could pitch them on it.
“I read it, and while I knew deep in my heart that this was the movie I had to make my first feature, it was lacking was a lot of authenticity,” says Guerrero. “It was lacking strong Mexican characters.”
Guerrero wanted to direct Culture Shock enough to take the biggest risk of her career: criticize the creative before she had the job.
“I told Blumhouse, ‘Look guys, this is a great idea, but I promise you, if you hire me, I’m going to make this so Mexican, I’m going to make this so Mexicano, it’s going to be appreciated, and here is a two-page sheet with all my proposed changes,’ and they let me go for it,” says Guerrero.
The end result premiered on Hulu, fittingly, on the Fourth of July. Culture Shock stars Martha Higareda as Marisol, a young Mexican woman in pursuit of the American Dream, who crosses illegally into the United States, only to find herself in an American nightmare.
“It was a tough movie to get right,” says Guerrero, who also earned a screenwriting credit. “I felt with this movie, it was not worth it to go so horrific with it because we’re already living it. I want to start a conversation about what’s happening and also entertain people.”
Culture Shock represents several significant firsts for Guerrero: first time directing a feature-length film, first time premiering a film at a red carpet screening in Hollywood and first time directing in two languages.
“One of the coolest things that happened with the cast and crew is that on set, I was directing in Spanish and in English, and it happened so organically,” says Guerrero. “I was very picky when casting the migrants. I said, ‘We can only cast Mexicans — I’m not going to cast somebody that can’t do the dialect.’ So on set, it was like, ‘Vamos, muy bien,’ and then, ‘OK, move on to the next scene.’ Everybody felt so involved by that.”
Culture Shockalso stars Richard Cabral, Felipe de Lara, Oscar Camacho and Ian Inigo, while Shawn Ashmore and horror icon Barbara Crampton appear in non-Mexican roles.
“I was the only creative head on the Blumhouse and Hulu side that was of Hispanic descent,” adds Guerrero. “The amount of trust they had in me was so overwhelming but it felt right. I’m so heartbroken about what is going on at the border. I could tell everybody was heartbroken about what people are doing to each other, and everybody wanted to tell this story. Everybody was ready to tackle something this ambitious.”
Guerrero still calls Vancouver home, although she says it was difficult to pursue her dream of making feature-length horror films here in the 604. She had to separate from her homegrown production company Luchagore Productions and head down to L.A. in order to make Culture Shock.
“Vancouver is great for service work, but for independent filmmakers, we’re competing against union rates,” says Guerrero. “Every crew member, they’re getting paid very well on Arrow and Supernatural, and all of these amazing shows, and indie filmmakers, we’re out of crew. Now, thanks to this experience, for future projects, I can slowly bring the team back together.”
Culture Shock streams on Hulu.