When society, monetary, and mental health challenges become too much, the Hayes family decides to pack up and move to the wilderness to live off the grid in the new genre entry Manifest West.
Told through the eyes of 10-year-old Riley (Lexy Kolker), this coming-of-age story is wrapped tightly in a survival thriller. In a move to establish some routine and normalcy in their lives, the Hayes family—dad Dave (Milo Gibson, son of Mel Gibson), mom Alice (Annet Mahendru) and their two daughters Riley and Mary (Madison Friedman)—leave their suburban home for a new life in a cabin in the mountains.
With former teacher Alice homeschooling her two daughters, the family starts to find its footing again after fleeing from some unmentioned trauma. As the foursome gets their lives back on track, they set out to build a sense of community with their fellow neighbours (Michael Cudlitz, Tim Heidecker). But slowly, that hard-won, new life descends into chaos as old ghosts creep back in, setting the family on a course for destruction.
Co-writers and co-directors Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson (one of Mel’s other sons) smartly present their thriller as an interesting, coming-of-age story. Young Riley is balancing on the edge of teenhood when she’s pulled away from everything that’s familiar to her. Trying to be the supportive big sister to Mary while making friends with edgy fellow mountain resident Lana (Ava Kolker), Riley also finds herself stepping into the role of parent to her mom and dad. The Hayes adults are hell-bent on ignoring their problems until they spiral out of control, leaving Riley burdened with the task of keeping the family together.
With story elements borrowed from a range of genres, Dietsch and Gibson manage to be clear in their storytelling and as a result, are able to deliver their compelling vision in a way that is not only entertaining, but feels fresh too.
The casting of Manifest West is superb, with the ensemble showing dynamic on-screen chemistry. Lexy Kolker shines in the role of young Riley, showing true dramatic range and depth. Mahendru (wife of Louie Gibson) manages to convey so much with simple facial expressions, she is a revelation as Alice as she battles her inner demons. Milo Gibson, too, is dynamite in the role with a performance that sees him showcase everything from vulnerability to rage. Not to be forgotten, the supporting cast of The Walking Dead’s Cudlitz and Heidecker (in a non-comedic role) work well with the leads, setting up real moments of drama and tension in their interactions.
Releasing on VOD/Digital platforms on November 11, Manifest West is a refreshing genre thriller with a clear vision that is worthy of your time.