Writer/Director Augustus Meleo Bernstein delivers a slow-burning psychological thriller At the gates. The film examines the human side of contemporary societal issues such as immigration enforcement and the role of undocumented workers in the American economy. In the story, a Salvadoran housekeeper and her teenage son suddenly find themselves wondering whether they will be protected or imprisoned after a wealthy couple allows them to hide in their basement from stubborn immigration officials.
The film features a solid cast Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings, The Glade), Noah Wyle (HE), Sadie Stanley (Cruel summer), and extraordinary curves past Vanessa Benavente and Ezekiel Pacheco. Before the film’s opening, filmmaker Bernstein and stars Otto, Stanley and Benavente told MovieWeb more about the film, its deeper themes and the timeliness of the story. Immerse yourself.
The making of the film
What begins as a normal working day for Salvadoran housekeeper Ana (Vanessa Benavente) turns into a stunning odyssey. Ana brings her teenage son Nico (Ezekiel Pacheco) to help her clean the home of a wealthy family in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles. The doorbell rings and their employers Marianne (Miranda Otto) and Peter Barris (Noah Wyle) soon inform them that immigration officials are looking for them. The couple persuades the two to take refuge in a basement closet and insists that they also hand over their phones. But as the days pass, the two families begin to question each other’s integrity. The premise sets the tone for a gripping thriller.
“In 2017, there was an increase in immigration raids in Los Angeles and people who I knew were scared and sheltering in place,” said writer/director Augustus Meleo Bernstein about the genesis of the project. “I am Jewish and grew up with the story of Anne Frank. I saw this idea for a contemporary Anne Frank story about a family hiding from the police in another family’s house, and the tension and distrust that arose between the two as they deal with the situation together. Ultimately, I just wanted to tell a story that humanized a polarizing issue we have in this country: the way we deal with immigration.”
Filmed in Hancock Park for three weeks, Bernstein noted that the cast did their best in the roles and that he was captivated by the performances of Vanessa Benavente and Ezekiel Pacheco. “Vanessa was the first person I met for this,” he shared. “We had an instant connection. She completely understood this character and wanted to do a lot of research to bring her to life. When we found Ezekiel Pacheco in real life, he came to America when he was just one year old. He has lived undocumented in Los Angeles his entire life and is here under the DACA program, which grants him a visa and allows him to work.
“Ezekiel was drawn to this project and felt how honest it was,” he further noted. “He wanted to bring some of his real-life experiences into the script. We started working together and put this film on the page to represent some of the fears he went through as a child.”
Sadie Stanley on Ezekiel Pacheco
“Ezekiel and I really had similar acting styles,” said Sadie Stanley, who plays Lauren, the Barris’ teenage daughter, in the film. Lauren and Nico share warm moments At the gates, Give both characters a chance to question their perspective. “We both wanted everything to feel grounded and really raw. When I first met Ezekiel I thought, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ ‘He’s perfect for this role.’ So this is a great feature debut for him and he really knocks it out of the park.”
The Cruel summer Star also said she is excited to see what the young actor does next. Above all, Stanley admitted that she was drawn to the story because it felt so unique and rare:
I had never seen a story like this told, especially not in this way. I loved this psychological thriller. These are, so to speak, my favorite films. So that was exciting for me. But I also liked that the heart of the film is this amazing, true and important story told about a mother and son who are illegal immigrants from El Salvador and their experiences.
Miranda Otto praises the experience
Miranda Otto is in every respect one of the best actresses working today. Between their work in Lord of the Rings Films like Shieldmaiden Eowyn and in TV series like The homeland And The Glade, She is an accomplished performer. In the character of Marianne Barris she found the opportunity to portray a wealthy woman torn by the passage of time and the desire to make a difference. Or maybe protect what she loves most.
“I was just fascinated by Marianne and how she wanted to try to do something positive in the world and the impact that had,” Otto explained. “I was fascinated by how little she knew about the situation [of immigration].
“I think that in this moment, when you talk about immigration in America, it’s dealing with it on a very personal level,” she added of the current issue. “It’s important to really empathize with the characters, see them as people and understand more about the situation.”
Vanessa Benavente’s performance
Vanessa Benavente will attract everyone’s attention At the gates. The Peruvian native says one of the reasons she became interested in the project was her close bond with her own mother. “I have two young children, so I think motherhood for me still encompasses every part of my life at the moment. It’s so present,” she explained. “I had emotional reactions to many scenes. I remember turning a page [in the script] At some point I knew exactly what Ana was going to say. This made me feel a lot of compassion and empathy towards this woman. I understood her on a very deep level.”
She noted that audiences will appreciate some of the film’s twists and feel empathy for Ana and Nico’s dilemma. “There were some very emotional themes in the film. The tone of the film…starts at one point and then leans into a place where you start to wonder what everyone’s intentions are. I think this will really surprise people.”
If you’re ready to be surprised, At the gates opens in select theaters on November 3rd in Los Angeles and November 10th in New York, with a wider release in the future.