[Minor Spoilers Ahead]
Avery lives behind her camera. It’s not that she wants to, she needs to. A self-proclaimed “woman without a country,” she has spent over a decade working as a war photographer, capturing an endless procession of cruelties, horrors, and human miseries. When not on assignment she wastes her nights getting drunk, hitting on married men, and suffering visions of her estranged husband Daniel. Photography allows her to capture and process the nonsensical world; to freeze it in place in manageable bits and pieces. With her eye behind a lens, life finally comes into focus. Small wonder she immediately accepts a new assignment to Colombia to cover a group of rebels known as “Missionaries”—an odd name considering their Marxist overtones and complete lack of religious doctrine. She settles into old habits: befriend the locals just enough to understand them but create enough distance that you stay invisible. The head guerrilla Guillermo (Nacho Vigalondo) asks her what she hopes to accomplish with her photos. What will she show? Their struggles? Their victories? “The camera sees what it sees: nothing less, nothing more,” she responds.
But one night soon after arriving in Colombia she covertly photographs Guillermo brutally butchering a young boy over what may or may not have been a cocaine shipment. Of course her camera’s flash malfunctions and reveals her—although why an experienced war photographer would bring a flash for a camera with a 50mm, 1.8 fixed focus lens is an entirely different, entirely beside-the-point story. Guillermo works fast, framing Avery for the murder and ordering his troops to hunt her down.
Here is the selling point of Josh C. Waller’s Camino: it’s a jungle chase action film starring legendary stunt actress Zoë Bell as a photographer who must escape a small army of vicious guerrillas. Essentially a showcase demonstrating Bell’s ability to carry a film by herself, we are treated to numerous scenes of her fighting, screaming, punching, flailing and, most importantly, acting. I shouldn’t joke about her acting, though. Bell manages to put a disarming amount of heart, emotion and pain into her performance. We all knew that she could pull off death-defying feats and ham it up in bit parts in Quentin Tarantino movies, but who could guess that she could channel such inner suffering?
But the film fails to match Bell’s performance. About fifteen minutes longer than it needed to be, it becomes repetitive in the second and third acts, falling into a predictable pattern: Avery encounters and defeats individual members of Guillermo’s forces; Guillermo sneaks off and kills his own soldiers when they try to defect or get in his way; he blames Avery for their deaths, further enraging his troops; rinse and repeat. It doesn’t help that the majority of the film takes place in a dimly lit jungle, making it difficult to keep track of which characters are racing around in the dark.
And for a film centered on Zoë Bell, there’s shockingly less Zoë Bell than I expected. There are only 3-4 stunts that take full advantage of her talents. Most of her screen-time features her either running, hiding or writhing in pain. Frequently Waller seems more concerned with showing off Vigalondo than he is Bell—they have almost the same amount of screen-time in the last half of the film. Camino is well-intentioned and ambitious in its attempts to add layers of psychological and emotional depth to a basic action movie formula. But it comes up short.