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Deadland Stands at the Border Between Life and Death

September 29, 2023

Lance Larson, the director and co-writer of the supernatural border thriller Deadland, first got the idea for the story from an article about a U.S. Border Patrol agent whose own parents had crossed into the United States illegally.

“I just thought, that’s an amazing duality,” Larson said Thursday at a Q&A following the El Paso Film Festival’s opening-night screening of his film, which premiered at SXSW.

“That’s a character worth writing about,” Larson added. “He talked about how much he loved his country, loved being a border agent, but at the same time, his Mexican heritage wasn’t lost. So he described himself as every day on the job carrying his badge in one hand, and his heart in the other.”

Deadland stars Roberto Urbina as Angel Waters, who treats the migrants he stops with respect and empathy, in part because he sees his own father’s story in theirs. When a mysterious visitor arrives at his home — soon after he tries to save another mysterious man caught in racing waters — he finds his loyalties divided.

The film, which received the festival’s Producers Award, is filled with assured twists and turns, and explaining them would rob you of some of the pleasures of Deadland. The film accomplishes the complicated mission of being inventive and clever, but at the same time spiritual and elegiac.

It’s edge-of-your seat intense — one character is named Hitchcock, and yes, the film is downright Hitchcockian in its power to set and subvert your expectations. But is also asks you to do a little soul-searching.