Deadland Review: A Haunting Journey Across Borders

When Ghosts Emerge from the Desert

Life on the border isn’t always what it seems. That’s a lesson Angel Waters learns the hard way in Lance Larson’s unsettling thriller, Deadland. As an agent patrolling a lonely stretch of river dividing Texas from Mexico, Angel thought he had things figured out. But one night, everything changes.

It begins with a man swept into the murky waters. Angel rescues the stranger, who, by all appearances, has drowned. Yet when Angel places the body in his vehicle, the supposed corpse mysteriously springs back to life. Disoriented and desperate, the stranger begs Angel to take him to El Paso.

Before Angel can make sense of this unnerving encounter, another surprise arrives at his home. An old man claims to be Angel’s long-lost father, having tracked him down after years apart. But as Angel tries to balance the demands of his job with family secrets unveiled, tensions mount at the border station too. There, a tragic accident sets off a chain of moral dilemmas that will haunt them all.

So begins Larson’s hypnotic tale of life along the border, where lines between nations, laws, and even life and death blur in the heat. His cast of flawed yet sympathetic characters slowly realizes their small-town routines hide deeper undercurrents, and challenging truths cannot stay buried forever in the vast desert sand. As past and present converge, Deadland transforms from a tense thriller to a thoughtful meditation on identity and what truly divides us, showing there are always more sides than meet the eye along the border, within families, and within ourselves.

Life Along the Border

Deadland delves into some deeply meaningful themes that give viewers plenty to reflect on. At its core, it’s a meditation on cultural identity and family bonds in a place where both are constantly tested.

The US-Mexico border itself takes on layers of symbolic significance. It’s portrayed not just as a physical divide but as a metaphysical one, as agents struggle to separate the crossing of souls from bodies. The film draws parallels between national borders and personal ones—the barriers we erect within relationships.

A potent metaphor is that of the tree and its root system, with roots representing cultural ties that span borders underground, out of sight. No man is an island, as the film suggests, and our roots running through others pull us together despite boundaries above the soil. This is beautifully embodied in Angel’s story of reconnecting with his estranged father.

Moral dilemmas also emerge from the tension between duty and humanity. Agents like Angel balance enforcing laws with mercy for those truly in need. But when a tragic mistake occurs, we see how easily good intentions can morph into a desperate coverup out of fear and loyalty to their rigid rulebook.

Perhaps most compelling are the movie’s ghosts, both literal and figurative. The spirits that haunt the characters come to represent buried pains from their pasts that refuse to stay interred. Try as they might, people can’t outrun their history or the memories clinging to their consciences like desert dust.

Through its ghostly visitors and the secrets they resurrect, Deadland underscores how the dead still shape the living by refusing to leave the present. Their visitations serve as a reminder that while the body perishes, the soul’s burdens live on unless addressed. Some wounds, it shows, can only be healed by confronting the ghosts of yesterday. For Angel and his fellow agents, laying the past to rest may require facing its demons one last time.

Faces Along the Border

One of the many strengths of Deadland lies in its characters. At the heart is Angel Waters, a man forever pulled between duty to his job and ties to his cultural roots. As a Mexican-American raised without a father, Angel faces a crisis when that missing piece of his history emerges.

Deadland Review

He grapples with responsibility for his pregnant wife while sorting through years of pain from his father’s absence. All the while, supernatural forces connected to the strange visitors he encounters threaten to expose secrets Angel has buried deep. Roberto Urbina brings such nuance to Angels’s internal conflict, keeping viewers unsure where his loyalties ultimately lie.

Next are Angel’s colleagues, each bearing scars from their roles in enforcement that have hardened them in different ways. Julieth Restrepo portrays Salomé Veracruz’s quiet anguish at the discrimination she faces in a man’s world. Beyond her duties, she sees herself as the protector of others, just trying to provide for their families.

McCaul Lombardi, meanwhile, embodies the simmering rage in Ray Hitchcock. Prone to rash acts, he represents how trauma untended can curdle a person’s soul. Both actors skillfully shine light on the shadowy toll of policing an endless tide of human desperation.

Most intriguing are the phantoms haunting the group. Manuel Uriza imbues Ignacio, Angel’s purported father, with an enigmatic wisdom. Viewers must look past his ramblings to discern the meaning in his lessons about roots running deep across borders.

Luis Chávez, as the nameless migrant, says volumes through his eyes, holding centuries of history. He arrives to stir the conscience and compel these worn law enforcers to deliver long-denied justice. Their ghostly visits challenge assumptions and, like the best of spirits, nudge the living to make things right.

In fleshing out such a diverse cast of layered characters along the divide, Deadland taps into universal human truths. It finds in each face a reminder that, for all that divides us, our shared capacity for hope, regret, and redemption is greater still.

Capturing Ghosts Along the Border

Director Lance Larson conjures an unforgettably moody atmosphere in Deadland through Jas Shelton’s mesmerizing cinematography. Their camerawork transports viewers to the rugged, sun-drenched border in vivid yet melancholy detail.

Shelton brings an almost painterly sensibility, filling the frame with breathtaking vistas of crumbling shacks and shadows dancing across parched earth. Even mundane scenes take on an ethereal quality through deft lighting and composition.

This sense of place perfectly captures the haunting, haunted feel at the film’s core. The desolation of the border setting becomes another character, trapping its inhabitants in histories they cannot escape.

No mere backdrop, the terrain itself holds significance. Its barren stretches consecrate the violence and secrets embedded within. Characters find themselves drawn back to bury the past, but the place ensures it will not stay buried.

Much is left unsaid, yet it resonates profoundly thanks to the visual storytelling. Squinting into the distance, we see what the characters see—or think they see—and share their uncertainty about what mysteries may emerge from the shimmering heat.

The film leaves concrete answers elusive. But in its masterful evocation of a lonely, haunted place and those forever shaped by its tragedies, Deadland ensures its unsettled ghosts will linger with viewers long after the final frames. Under Larson and Shelton’s vision, the border becomes a character that completes this hauntingly human tale.

Captivated by the Cast

Deadland features a phenomenal cast that leaves an indelible mark. Roberto Urbina steals the show as Angel Waters with a deeply moving portrayal. Subtle facets emerge with every scene as Angel wrestles with duty and discovers truths about his family.

Underneath Urbina’s stoic exterior lies achingly human complexity. His angel strives to protect others yet remains haunted by failures, real or perceived. Urbina ensures not an emotion goes to waste, imbuing even Angel’s silences with eloquence. The character’s journey is riveting precisely because of Urbina’s instinctive grasp of his subject’s inner conflicts.

Supporting players thrive thanks to Larson’s guidance. Kendal Rae affects great change through Hannah’s unwavering compassion. Hannah’s steadfast love for Angel proves a beacon in dark times.

McCaul Lombardi makes the volatile Hitchcock’s fall from grace simultaneously cringe-worthy yet sympathetic. No role feels one-dimensional; we see the humanity remaining even in Hitchcock’s most misguided acts.

Julieth Restrepo likewise avoids stereotypes as the sole female officer. Veracruz overcomes discrimination through resilience and intellect, rather than anger. Her insights often prove to be the wisest among her colleagues.

Even bit parts resonate. Chris Mulkey injects palpable menace into a villain who makes injustice feel terrifyingly mundane. As Angel’s alleged father, Manuel Uriza allows divided loyalties to live on his face, keeping viewers guessing to the end.

Deadland lives or dies by its character drama. Thankfully, Larson recruited actors willing to bring these flawed souls to three-dimensional life. Their masterful work ensures the film’s unsettling vision stays with viewers long after the credits roll.

Striking a Masterful Balance

Deadland showcases Larson’s finesse at weaving disparate threads into a seamless tapestry. Genres that could clash on lesser films blend nimbly here into an mesmerizing whole. Police procedural scenes flow crisply yet leave room for a creeping supernatural atmosphere.

The border setting lends gritty realism as we glimpse the stress of Agent Waters’ profession. His daily struggles feel tangible, raising complex issues around immigration policies. But fantastical currents just beneath the surface hint that ordinary rules may not apply.

Larson resists picking a lane, forging a hybrid where lines blur beneficially. His direction treats the strange and the mundane as two sides of one unknowable coin. We view Waters’ world slightly askew, primed for magic lurking in shadows.

This balance becomes its own draw. The film asserts that there are no easy answers to the topics it poses. We’re left mulling blurred morality as characters’ fates twist beyond prediction. Deadland shows depth and nuance where stark divides could have been simplistic.

Mysteries remain mysterious. We grasp Waters’ plight emotionally, if not logically. Ghosts may symbolize sins that can’t be buried or freedoms denied. But Larson ensures his vision stays vividly unpinned.

This refusal to fully explain keeps viewers engaged long after ghosts are laid. We’re free to find our own meanings, continuing the discussions Deadland sparks around the complex issues society faces. In sidestepping easy resolution, Larson’s deliberate directions achieve the rarest of feats: a thought-provoking genre piece proudly resisting pat solutions.

The Art in Empathy

Throughout, Deadland impresses with its thoughtful blend of genres and themes. By grounding supernatural elements in character-driven drama, Larson crafts a work that stimulates both minds and spirits.

Agent Waters and his partners feel fully formed. We share their anguish at an impossible task, whether facing dissociated souls or reckoning with past mistakes. Larson ensures we experience the film through their eyes, eliciting compassion even in its darkest scenes.

Waters’ journey exploring legacy and fathers resonates strongly too. The film observes how our roots entwine with others’, for better and worse. Though answers stay scarce, Deadland’s migrant characters gain faces and souls. Their humanity emerges even beyond death’s veil.

It’s a treasure when any film can refine hot topics into enduring insights. Deadland navigates debates delicately, without simple scapegoating or platitudes. Its ghosts may symbolize much, but ultimately, Larson’s debut seems most haunted by dilemmas that divide us and hands that remain unjoined.

Even as fantasy elements grip Deadland, it feels profoundly real. Through its artistry and empathy, it leaves thoughts that linger long after the final credits pass. Larson’s singular vision illustrates how, at their best, boundary-blurring stories can help us see across every line men draw.

The Review


8 Score

Deadland is a superbly crafted piece of atmospheric storytelling that uses supernatural elements to explore complex human relationships strained by moral ambiguities. While some plot threads are left ambiguous, director Lance Larson navigates heavy subject matter with empathy and nuance, prioritizing character over easy answers. The ensemble cast gives deeply felt performances in this haunting border thriller that will linger long after viewing.


  • Complex, layered exploration of human relationships
  • Thoughtful blending of genres keeps viewers engaged.
  • A strong ensemble cast delivers emotionally grounded performances.
  • Addresses immigration issues with empathy and a lack of simple answers
  • Visual style and unanswered mysteries keep the story compelling.


  • The plot leaves some threads ambiguously unresolved.
  • A slow pace won't appeal to all audiences.
  • Heavy subject matter isn't for those seeking purely escapist fare.

Review Breakdown

  • Overall 8
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