Canoa: A Shameful Memory tells the true story of a group of mountain climbers in 1968 who were terrorized by a small Mexican town in thrall to a corrupt Catholic priest. It begins by plainly stating the facts of the event, followed by a mix of faux documentary footage (giving background on the town’s economic woes and poorly-educated populace) and a dramatization of the 48 hours leading up to the event. This context—plus one hell of a dark and stormy night—allows the tension to slowly build as we helplessly watch these young men move unwittingly toward their fate. Once that fate arrives, it is terrifying, heightened by the knowledge that it actually occurred.
In highlighting this tragedy, Canoa is also an oblique condemnation of the state-sanctioned Tlatelolco massacre that occurred in Mexico City just days later, driven by the same anti-communist hysteria.
This is a brave and horrific political drama, made all the more powerful by how its warnings of the dangers of authoritarianism remain relevant.