Origin Unknown (2020) Review
When a film opens with what looks like a team of Mexican ninjas battling a clan of vampires, it raises some expectations for what the film will deliver. And that’s just how Origin Unknown (Sin Origen in its native Mexico) begins. Director Rigoberto Castañeda (KM 31: Kilometre 31, Diablero) and screenwriter Michael Caissie (Hunter’s Moon) don’t waste any time getting down to business.
As this is going down, Pedro De Toro (Daniel Martínez, El Señor de los Cielos) is in the middle of some tense negotiations. A long-time financial advisor to the cartels, he’s looking to buy his way out and go legit. As this isn’t without a lot of risks he’s gathered his family, wife Francis (Lisette Morelos, Untamed Soul) and Maria (Ana Paola Marin) and Beto (Matias del Castillo, Km 31-2), his children by his deceased first wife who happened to be Francis’ sister, in a high-tech, fortified mansion.
He’s also brought along with a small army of guards that include his brother-in-law Erik (Ramón Medina, Mexico Barbaro 2, Fear the Walking Dead) and Erik’s brother Alan (Horacio Garcia Rojas, Narcos: Mexico). When the alarms start sounding, they prepare for battle, but all they find is a scared little girl, Lina (Paulina Gil).
Much like Blade, Origin Unknown is a vampire film, but not entirely a horror film. Yes, there are scares, but the film is focused as much on the action. Remember those ninjas I mentioned? They’re called The Arcanes, and they’re the reason the girl is scared. They’re more than willing to kill everyone in the compound to get to her if need be.
After the opening scenes, Origin Unknown comes off as an off-center home invasion film. There are flashes of the supernatural, such as Beto using a Ouija board and getting a message from his mother. And The Arcanes are anything but normal adversaries. They look like they stepped out of an Assassin’s Creed game and move like ninjas. They fight with swords and bows but use technology such as drones as well. As much as I would have loved some backstory on them, I’m glad the film never slows down long enough to deliver it.
Through this, Castañeda frames the story in terms of families. Pedro and his extended family. Flashbacks to Lina’s life with the vampire family. And The Arcanes, who may or may not be related by blood, but are as close as if they were. The ties of loyalty and betrayals add an extra layer of complexity and tension to Origin Unknown, especially in the last half hour when the shit really hits the fan.
The film’s first sixty minutes build up tension and set the stage for the final conflict. Castañeda uses a split-screen at several points to help build the sense of imminent danger. Thankfully, he also resists the urge to overuse it or break the screen up into three or four parts. The only film I can recall that managed to pull that off was Twilight’s Last Gleaming. And no, that’s not part of the sparkly vampire franchise.
The last half hour of Origin Unknown lets all that tension loose in a relentless burst of blood and bullets, fangs and shifting loyalties. It’s a testament to the script that two of the film’s strongest emotional moments occur in the midst of this carnage as well. To be honest, I was worried about the script given my opinion of Hunter’s Moon, but Caissie really does a great job here. Granted, some of that may be attributable to the director who is credited with adapting the script. Whether that means simply translating it into Spanish or more extensive work, I don’t know.