Thursday, July 18, 2024

“A DESERT”

THE STORYDriving across the American Southwest, struggling photographer Alex is hoping to revive his career and find inspiration within the vast landscape of deserts and abandoned roadside structures. A pit stop at an otherwise inconspicuous motel alters his plans, thanks to a younger couple whose devil-may-care attitude initially attracts Alex but quickly proves to be something more dangerous than he thought. Before long, what began as a restorative road trip descends into a nightmare that spirals beyond his control.

THE CAST David Yow, Kai Lennox, Sarah Lind, Zachary Ray Sherman, Ashley B. Smith & Rob Zabrecky

THE TEAMJoshua Erkman (Director/Writer) & Bossi Baker (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 100 Minutes


Plenty of horror films have been compared to nightmares, but few feel as uncanny and off as a bad dream. “A Desert” is one of the rare films to capture the feeling of being trapped in a dreamlike world where nothing is right, and help is nowhere to be found. That energy is the film’s greatest asset. Unfortunately, it’s content to coast on these vibes rather than actually constructing a compelling narrative, leaving too much of the film to feel as if it’s wandering lost in the titular desert in search of a story.

The film opens with Alex (Kai Lennox), a photographer looking for inspiration in the desert landscapes of the American Southwest. He seems most drawn to properties that have been abandoned and left to be consumed by the brutal environment. One night, while staying at a less-than-ideal motel, the guests next door (Zachary Ray Sherman and Ashley B. Smith) cause such a noisy ruckus that he complains to the front desk. This leads to the temporary neighbors knocking on Alex’s door. Still, rather than being hostile, they seem genuinely curious about Alex’s profession and invite themselves in for an impromptu photo session. It’s not long before the booze is flowing, and the clothes come off. When Alex wakes up the next day, he seeks out Renny (Sherman) for an explanation of how their night went, which sends Alex tumbling down the rabbit hole into a world far different than his normal one.

Sherman gives the kind of unpredictable, untamed, un-whatever-else-you-want-to-call-it performance that makes him feel like a genuine threat, not just to the film’s characters but even to the viewers. He’s naturally scary in a way that fits right into the film’s tone of uncertainty. He’s the best part of the film and knows exactly how to operate within the uneasy atmosphere.

That aforementioned tone remains consistent throughout, and to those looking for scares, that’s where the true horror of the film lies. The world of “A Desert” is unrelentingly bleak – and not always for obvious reasons. A good portion of the film is spent following a character named Harold (David Yow) as he explores this world and tries to make sense of it, and even though he rarely encounters anything outwardly threatening, the environs he pokes around feel beyond unwelcoming. The eerie soundscape and Ty Segall’s creepy score further add to the vague terror. Like a bad dream, it doesn’t always make sense why things feel so off, but the film is unrelentingly uncomfortable.

However, the film leans far too hard on its mood rather than crafting a captivating narrative. After a clear turning point at the end of the film’s first act, the plot shifts. This switcheroo is enough to make audiences lean in, but as the film winds its way through the next hour, it can’t help but meander away from a sense of purpose. Plenty of horror films value tone over plot (just look at “The Shining”), but the best ones still craft a decent central narrative that audiences can hold onto.

In terms of its content, “A Desert” really does feel like a nightmare. But much like even the scariest of dreams, it doesn’t linger long in the minds of those experiencing it once it’s over.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The atmosphere and tone are perfectly uneasy, making the viewer feel like they’re truly watching a nightmare on screen. Zachary Ray Sherman gives a performance that’s appropriately unpredictable and fits well within the world of the film.

THE BAD - Leans on its mood at the expense of crafting a compelling narrative.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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Cody Dericks
Cody Dericks
Actor, awards & musical theatre buff. Co-host of the horror film podcast Halloweeners.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>The atmosphere and tone are perfectly uneasy, making the viewer feel like they’re truly watching a nightmare on screen. Zachary Ray Sherman gives a performance that’s appropriately unpredictable and fits well within the world of the film.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Leans on its mood at the expense of crafting a compelling narrative.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"A DESERT"