In his 2013 debut feature, Raze, director Josh Waller brought Zoë Bell, known for her stunt work and appearances in Quentin Tarantino movies, one step closer to true action stardom. Now they’ve re-teamed for Camino, a film that requires not only the physical prowess we all expect from Bell, but some emotional heavy lifting as well. And when she can, she succeeds. As a showcase for fierce women—Bell, mainly, although Shelia Vand, who played the eponymous vampire in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, also turns in a memorable performance as a guerrilla fighter—Camino has its moments. But with such lackluster material for them to work with, it’ll probably end up being a resume builder for both women more than anything else.
Bell stars as Avery, an award-winning photojournalist who is sent to Colombia circa 1985 to document a paramilitary group led by charismatic, seemingly well-meaning revolutionary Guillermo (Nacho Vigalondo). Toward the end of a missionary campaign clearly being staged for Avery’s benefit, she decides to go off script and follows Guillermo into the woods one evening, where she—and her camera—witness him murdering a child. Yes, in a wholly predictable twist, Guillermo is actually a murderous sociopath who uses the group as a cover for his drug-dealing activities. And being a murderous sociopath, he blames the child’s death on Avery.
From there, the film turns into a survival thriller, as Avery faces off with the members of the group one by one in a standard and fairly uninteresting cat-and-mouse format. The heart of the film is a more than six-minute-long fight scene that serves as both a showcase for Bell’s stunt ability and a key turning point for her character; to paraphrase Shakespeare, Avery has had badassdom thrust upon her, and this is the moment where she must accept it. In this scene, Bell reaches her full action-star potential, combining moments of genuine fear with startling physical strength as she fights with knives and fists, eventually strangling her attacker to death with her camera strap. Sure, she transforms from a journalist to a killer quite easily. But that’s what always happens in these movies.
The real downfall of Camino is its script, which screenwriter Daniel Noah says was written into two days—and it shows. The actors try their best, but with a script that continually undermines its characters—a key confrontation between two women, a potentially powerful moment, turns into a jealous squabble over a man, for example—there’s only so much they can do. This is especially true for Vigalondo, best known for his work as a director (he made the time-travel thriller Timecrimes), not as an actor. In a role written specifically for him, he nails the “charming” part of “charming psychopath,” but sometime around his second Bond-villain speech, the menace has completely drained out of his performance. Bell’s strength is similarly sabotaged by a poorly thought-out plot device involving visions of her estranged husband, presumably meant to evoke pathos but which actually cuts her action-hero transformation off at the crazy-lady knees.
In between the expository speeches and blatant telegraphing of every symbolic element of the film—don’t know what the title refers to? Don’t worry, you will!—Camino makes time for plenty of sweaty hand-to-hand combat, shot in muddy nighttime colors and punctuated with blasts of horror-movie-style synths. None of it, frankly, is very interesting when Bell isn’t around.