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'Manifest West': Milo Gibson, Annet Mahendru make it a family affair in new thriller

It’s a family affair in the thriller movie Manifest West, co-written and directed by Mel Gibson’s son Louie Gibson, starring his brother Milo and wife Annet Mahendru, in a gripping tale about a family living off the grid.

“It was a character that I have yet to step into the shoes of and that's what kind of drew me to it,” Milo Gibson told Yahoo Canada.

Manifest West is told from the perspective of Riley Hayes (Lexy Kolker) who, as a young girl, sees her family unit spiral to an uncontrollable level.

“Once there was a family of pioneers who were looking for a better life,” Riley says in the voiceover at the beginning of the film. “The family came from a big city but then they ran out of money and they had to leave.”

“It was a big sister and a little sister, and it was a mom and a dad. They weren’t perfect but they were a family.”

Riley’s parents, Dave (Gibson) and Alice (Mahendru), along with her younger sister Mary (Madison Friedman), move to a cabin in the woods after Alice loses her job as a teacher. It’s revealed that Alice has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Dave’s hope is that this new way of life will be better for her.

“I wanted to explore for myself, as well, maybe giving up on this cookie cutter existence and trying to live off nature, and seeing enough of this consumerism," Mahendru said about what attracted her to the role of Alice. "Louie and I, funny enough, after the film, have explored that for ourselves.”

The Hayes family may have moved from the city, but the chaos and trauma that shadowed their previous life follows them to this new place.

“If you move to the top of a mountain, if you go move to a different country, your problems follow you, wherever you go, eventually they'll catch up to you if you don't take care of them at the right time,” Gibson said.

Lexy Kolker as Riley Hayes in
Lexy Kolker as Riley Hayes in "Manifest West," also starring Milo Gibson and Annet Mahendru.

Deciding to tell the story from Riley’s perspective is certainly an effective storytelling decision from Louie Gibson and Joe Dietsch. It feels like a fresh take on a family drama.

“I think when you tell it through, say the parents’ eyes, I think it becomes very flat and kind of boring,” Milo Gibson said. "So when you see it through a kids eyes, I think it just changes the whole aspect of how a kid maybe perceives family life, what they hold on to, what they don't hold on to, what they're listening to.”

“[It’s] maybe a more honest depiction too, of what really goes on, and the parents could be biased,” Mahendru added.

“In the story, our daughter is the one who steps up finally and says, OK enough, I'll tell you what's wrong, you actually don't know, you don't want to see it because you don't want to take the blame."

COSTA MESA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 15: (L-R) Actors Annet Mahendru, Lexy Kolker, Madison Harper Friedman and Milo Gibson attend the premiere of
COSTA MESA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 15: (L-R) Actors Annet Mahendru, Lexy Kolker, Madison Harper Friedman and Milo Gibson attend the premiere of "Manifest West" at the Newport Beach Film Festival at Triangle 5 on October 15, 2022 in Costa Mesa, California. (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

'It needs lots of support and understanding'

When working to authentically play Alice, as a woman struggling with mental illness, Annet Mahendru spoke to several people but also tapped into her personal experience with postpartum.

“We were all worried about that, about that portrayal and doing it justice, because mental illness affects many people, and it needs lots of support and understanding around it,” Mahendru said. “It's a very vulnerable condition we explored and that's why we were all a little bit careful with that.”

“It's nice to hear that people who have watched the film, there's been several people who were like, that was my childhood I got to see it because it was through Riley's, the child's experience,...and I feel a little bit better watching that, my inner child feels acknowledged. So it was nice to get that feedback after all that.”

“Somebody told us the other day that what happens in it and certain things that happened was exactly what happen [to them,]” Milo Gibson added.

“Dave tries to be there for his wife and in doing so, is blind to what he's really doing. I think it gets to a point where perhaps it gets a little too much for him and then he starts to also float away, just like she does, and so leaving their two most precious things that they love more than anything in the world right in the middle, unprotected, not cared for.”

Manifest West is available on VOD/Digital on November 11