"Deadland" (2023)

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s Deadland from Lightbulb Film Distribution and director Lance Larson.

When a detained immigrant (Luis Chávez) is killed, U.S. border agents Angel (Roberto Urbina), Hitch (McCaul Lombardi), and Cruz (Julieth Restrepo) dispose of the man's body in an unmarked grave. But like their dark secret, the victim refuses to remain buried.

The Good
Joseph: Deadland’s plot — the screenplay was cowritten by director Larson and Jas Shelton —  has you thinking that you know where it is headed but instead it leads you to wholly unexpected places on a supernatural journey that blends magical realism with mystical philosophy and social commentary. There’s no shortage of quality human drama, either. Larson, who cowrote the screenplay with Jas Shelton, helms the film masterfully, balancing the drama and suspense elements wonderfully. The cast members all give master-class performances, from the three stars mentioned above to supporting players Kendal Rae as Angel’s wife Hannah, Manuel Uriza as mysterious stranger Ignacio Coronado, and Chris Mulkey and Julio Cesar Cedillo as a pair of no-nonsense Internal Affairs officers. Shelton also served as director of photography, and he did beautiful work behind the camera as well as with his screenwriting. 

Mike: Exceptional performances, great cinematography, and some truly creepy moments highlight Larson’s Deadland, a film that delivers not just a tale of right and wrong, but one of paternal responsibilities and does it under the umbrella of the  perpetual hot topic of illegal immigration.
Larson’s slow burn tale of three border agents dealing with the fallout of a horrible accident is engaging and will keep your attention.  I mentioned in a recent review that as soon as you start looking at a clock a movie has pretty much all but lost you which is something that doesn’t happen here.  For a first time feature director, Larson nails the pacing required to spin a careful and meticulous web, something folks with dozens more credits under their belts are quite often unable to do.

The Bad
Joseph: Not “bad” but rather, more puzzling regarding the excellent Deadland  are two things. First, Hannah’s immediate trust in Ignacio and who he claims to be (no spoilers here) seems to be too easily given. This comment will make more sense once viewers watch the movie and understand who Ignacio might — or might not — be. Also, there is ultimately a question as to how two characters can coexist. Again, I don’t want to give too much away here, because part of the beauty of the film and its worldbuilding is the mystery behind everything. 

Mike:  It’s not often that a movie comes across our site that doesn’t have SOMETHING wrong with it, be it minor or major.  Heck, I’ll even cop to being a bit overly nitpicky from time to time just to have something to put here.  But Lance Larson’s Deadland is the first film in a long while that I can’t think of any complaints or criticisms to toss its way.  

The Verdict
Joseph: Deadland is a strong contender for my top 10 list of films for 2024, regardless of genre. Larson has crafted an outstanding genre film all the more impressive because it is his debut at the helm of a feature-length film. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing what he comes up with in the future.

Mike:  Mixing themes and two seemingly separate plots in a seamless and exceptional fashion, Lance Larson delivers a gripping and somewhat poignant tale that features some great acting and beautifully dusty locales.
I’m not saying the film is amazing and the greatest thing since sliced bread, however it IS an engaging film that will keep your attention and surprise you with what, in hindsight, seems to be an obvious plot twist.  I look forward to seeing more feature films from Larson and hope that this isn’t just a one-hit wonder for the director.

from Lightbulb Film Distribution will be available to own or rent in the U.K. and Ireland from June 24, 2024, via Amazon Video, AppleTV, Sky Store and Rakuten.

Directed By: Lance Larson
Written By: Lance Larson, Jas Shelton
Starring: Roberto Urbina, Julieth Restrepo, McCaul Lombardi, Chris Mulkey
Run Time: 1h 32m
Rating: 15
Release Date: June 24th, 2024