Deadland is an elevated thriller where a US border patrol agent tries to apprehend the ghost of his father, a grave decision that will haunt him forever.
The Rio Grande river cuts through 1200 miles of harsh and unforgiving desert, dividing Texas from Mexico.
U.S. Border agent Angel Waters comes across what would normally be a routine illegal crossing, but it quickly devolves into his worst nightmare as he pulls a dying immigrant from the river. Barely clinging to life, the immigrant utters, “El Paso, por favor”. This dying request is one Angel cannot grant, but soon will wish he had.
In a tragic twist of fate the immigrant is killed while being held at a remote border outpost. Under the cover of darkness, Angel and his two fellow border agents bury the body deep in the desert in an unmarked grave. They swear an oath of silence, but it’s a silence the deceased migrant refuses to accept.
Days later Angel is called back to the river where he finds the SAME migrant at the river’s edge. The man calmly utters the same bone chillingly request, “El Paso, por favor”.
In a world divided, Angel will soon learn that divisions only run so deep.
The initial idea for this story began when I read an article about a 1st generation Hispanic U.S. Border Agent. I was floored by the duality this man carries with him on the job having been brought into this world by undocumented immigrants. One quote sticks with me, “I carry my badge in one hand and my heart in the other”. That is a character worth writing about.
After a healthy amount of research Jas Shelton (co-writer) and I decided to create a story focusing on connection as the central theme.
We explored everything from physical and metaphysical borders, always asking the question “Is everything connected”? In exploring the physical aspect of the story we took a hard look at the border between the United States and Mexico, the relationships between families that exist on both sides and the impact the border has had on them. Their stories were heartbreaking and there was no turning back at that point. We had to tell this story.
The research helped us lean into the idea of building a story about connection between a 1st generation U.S. Border Agent, Angel Waters, and his estranged undocumented father, Ignacio Coronado. It’s important to understand that Angel is about to become a father and his wife Hannah desperately wants him reconcile with Ignacio before their first child arrives. The baby in many ways is the catalyst for the events that follow. In an effort to reinforce the theme we dropped a handful of easter eggs into the story.
These metaphors symbolize the relationships of the characters (both Mexican and American) through an ancient coin, a song, day, night, life, death and a mantra about the inseparable connection between the roots and the branches that reverberate through the lineage of Angel’s family tree.
Although this film does not have a religious angle, we liked what The Holy Trinity could offer to the story. The metaphor helped us map out the connection of the characters. Ignacio is represented as The Father, Angel represents The Son, and the Stranger represents The Holy Ghost. All three characters are separate in their own right, but equally joined as one at the same time.
There are two specific moments in the film where Ignacio blatantly draws a connection to the Stranger. There’s the first time Angel meets his father, Ignacio says, “I come from the river.” Angel has literally just come from trying to save the Stranger from crossing the treacherous Rio Grande. The second time Ignacio draws a distinct connection to the Stranger is during his confrontation Angel. In the heat of the argument, Ignacio says to Angel, “I saw you praying in the desert. I was there”. Spooked, Angel backs away from Ignacio wondering how his father could know such a deep dark secret without actually being in the desert with him.
Before writing this film, I learned that a good number of hospice care patients experience a phenomenon known as ‘visioning’. This usually occurs in the final days before the patient passes on. They are seemingly in two places at once. When the patients are lucid they can describe seeing relatives in great detail that live far away. They can describe events/moments that happened in recent days as if they were there. These are events (big or small) that the patient should NOT be aware of, but somehow are. I find that fascinating! In the film Deadland, the co-writer, Jas Shelton, and I took some creative liberties with this phenomenon. The Stranger’s character is the embodiment or physical form of Ignacio’s consciousness when he is visioning/traveling to see his son while out in the field on border patrol duty. So Ignacio is experiencing ‘visioning’ through the eyes of the Stranger. That’s how Ignacio has learned Angel’s deepest, darkest secret, praying for the deceased Stranger in the desert. Both of these scenes are fantastic/jarring moments in the film.
Everything in this film points to the theme of connection. Love and time cannot be contained. They stretch beyond both physical and metaphysical borders.
— Lance Larson
Cast & Production
20 Mar 2023 Austin Chronicle SXSW Film Review: Deadland
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