“Upon Entry” (“La Ilegada”)


Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10), TMDB.com (4/5)

Welcome to America, land of the free and home of the brave, a sanctuary for the world’s poor, tired and huddled masses. Or is it? That’s the question raised in this gripping, edgy debut feature from the writing-directing duo of Alejandro Rojas and Juan Sebastián Vasquez. When a Spanish couple (Alberto Ammann, Bruna Cusí) relocating to the US on legally obtained visas to begin a new life, they’re detained by authorities on arrival at the New York port of entry for intense questioning about matters of an undisclosed nature. With no explanation for the interrogation, they’re subjected to an increasingly intrusive line of questioning by two antagonistic agents (Ben Temple, Laura Gómez) who offer no rationale for their hostile scrutiny. It’s an exercise on par with an increasingly brutal fraternity hazing ritual, one aimed at ultimately trying to uncover some kind of allegedly illegal scheme driven by trumped-up speculation and the couple’s growing resistance to cooperate, especially when they seem to be guilty at best of failing to dot a few i’s and cross a few t’s. They become reluctant to answer highly personal questions, leading to circumstances that eventually threaten to tear apart the fabric of the duo’s obviously loving relationship. While it’s certainly reasonable to employ prudent security precautions in immigration and customs scenarios, is this kind of unduly malicious treatment really necessary, particularly when the couple ostensibly appears to be playing by all the rules? Is this the America we want, one driven by paranoia and pervasive suspicion? And, if so, then why would anyone want to come here in the first place, even when making a diligently concerted effort to follow all of the legally sanctioned protocols? This film sends a powerful message about these kinds of practices, especially given that some of them have actually been in place far longer than most American citizens are aware of. These issues are disturbingly brought to life by the film’s meticulously crafted writing, which keeps characters and viewers alike guessing about what’s playing out, combined by the superb performances of the four principals, who effectively convey the anguish and fright being wrought on screen. This Tubi TV offering is highly deserving of its three Independent Spirit Award nominations for best first feature, best first screenplay and best editing, even if it’s also the kind of picture that makes audiences uneasy – but, then, maybe that’s the point behind it, too, a goal at which it succeeds brilliantly.