Gerardo Naranjo's superb new feature, Miss Bala, brilliantly draws on the conflicted personality of a young beauty pageant contestant as a tragically stark emblem of Mexico's all-enveloping drug wars. The movie stars the poised Stephanie Sigman as a Miss Baja contest aspirant who is caught in a world of murky loyalties and shifting identities. Sigman's Laura is a pawn trapped between a charismatic cartel leader (Noe Hernández), the cops, and the military. Naranjo adopts a bracing and lyrical tone that creates a sinister sense of unease and violence. Even the landscapes are imbued with something otherworldly. Making multiple references to Orson Welles's border town classic Touch of Evil and Jean-Luc Godard's apocalyptic Weekend, Naranjo finds his own idiom. From the cartel's nighttime raid on a nightclub to a hotel shootout, he ensnares the viewer in the mayhem and provides no easy escape. Meanwhile, Sigman's tremulous, vivid performance anchors the movie. It's a knockout.