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The Gatekeeper (R)
Gatekeeper Productions
Official Site
Director: John Carlos Frey
Producer: John Carlos Frey
Written by: John Carlos Frey
Cast: John Carlos Frey, Michelle Agnew, Anne Bettencourt, Joel Brooks, Joe Pascual

Rating: out of 5

Adam Fields (Frey) is a self-loathing Mexican-American. Engaged to a WASPy gringa, he never sees his family or speaks the fluent Spanish he commands. To add insult to injury, he works for the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego, hunting down illegal Mexican immigrants. But those things are not enough for Fields. He also moonlights with a band of vigilante nativist conspiracy theorists, who “help” the Border Patrol by tracking down these Mexicans themselves, with predictably brutal results.

Fed up with the Mexican “invasion” of these great United States and the ineffectiveness of the Federal government in trying to combat it, the group sets up a sting operation. Fields will go to Mexico and pose as someone desiring illegal passage to the U.S., allowing his buddies to track and capture an entire group of would-be border crossers. When the operation goes horribly awry, Fields is unable to break character and return to his normal life. Forced to continue with his disguise, he soldiers on with the immigrants and their captors to the next stage in their journey—a meth lab where the Mexicans are forced to engage in illegal work for people who don’t even speak their language.

Since Fields’ duplicitous identification with the Mexican immigrants he despises is the only thing keeping him alive, the setup of The Gatekeeper sounds like an excellent opportunity for a provocative character study. Unfortunately, this prospect never materializes. Instead, The Gatekeeper is a narrow “message” film, in which Fields comes to realize that, hey, Mexicans aren’t all bad people, and many of them are even exploited.

Though the film does hold the viewer’s interest throughout, stock characters and situations consistently burden it. Fields’ fellow captives at the meth lab include, for example, an impossibly giving and noble young chemist (Pascual) who takes Fields under his wing, and an older woman (Betancourt) who shares with him her hard-earned wisdom. A major subplot concerns Eva (Agnew), a young mother who has fled with her son to the U.S. The parallels between her situation and that of Fields and his mother many years before are far too obvious, and are unnecessarily underscored by several conversations between the characters. But by far the most important lack of nuance in the film surrounds the character of Fields himself. The narrative takes a quick early stab at explaining why he hates his Mexican heritage so much, but that one scene really raises more questions than it answers. Because we are not given a sophisticated understanding of our main character’s motivations, his eventual acceptance of the humanity of his fellow Mexicans is simply implausible. While Frey is clearly trying to present Fields as repressed and enraged, the viewer’s lack of familiarity with his motivations often renders him simply wooden or ignorant.

The Gatekeeper still lacks a distribution deal, and was directed, written, and produced by lead actor John Carlos Frey on a shoestring budget. Thus it oozes both “indie cred” and a “DIY sensibility.” (The lead actress also supervised the closing credits.) That fact, as well as the film’s clear concern for the downtrodden, makes The Gatekeeper a movie one wants to like. Furthermore, Frey’s strength of vision renders it likely that he will make a solid film, perhaps one that is not so personal, in the future. But today, The Gatekeeper is not it.

—Mike O’Connor

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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