Heli is a – forgive the pun - hellish encounter with the machinations of the Mexican drug trafficking industry as mediated through the tragic story of a family caught in its tentacles.
17-year old Heli of the title (Arman Espitia) is a decent boy who minds his own business, works at the local car plant. He lives with his wife Sabrina (Linda González) and their infant son. His father and his 14-year old sister Estela (Andrea Vergara) also share the humble dwelling.
Life ambles along uneventfully in this quiet Mexican backwater, although trouble begins to rear its head in the shape of Estela’s secret boy-friend Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacios) a local army cadet. In one early scene, Beto endures a gruelling and humiliating army training routine, whose sanctioned violence somehow prefigures more terrible violence to come, though not from this quarter.
Beto wants to elope with Estela as he knows their relationship will never be accepted, due to her underage status. To finance their elopement, he acquires two packets of cocaine which he asks Estela to mind overnight in her family’s water tank. Estela’s fatal undertaking marks the beginning of a catastrophe that is about to wreck this Mexican family. An evil drugs gang - whose actions are compounded in the aftermath by an inert, complacent police force - will wreak unspeakable harm.
There is one particularly violent scene of torture that really you had better be warned about beforehand. Astounding performances all around from a number of first-time actors meant that Escalante would win Best Director award at Cannes in 2013.