J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

LAFF ’17: Desolation

This camping trip was supposed to be cathartic, but the closure could be permanent. Abby, her young son Sam, and her best friend Jen set out to scatter her recently deceased husband’s ashes, but they could be toast if the hiker stalking them has his way in Sam Patton’s Desolation, which premiered last night at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival.

It was a long, agonizing illness that left Abby and Sam emotionally exhausted. This trip should be the start of the healing process, but the big creepy dude in reflector shades gives off massively bad vibes. Sam sees him first and then Abby and Jen come across ominous signs of his presence. They hope he will just get bored and go away, but this is a film from a former Blumhouse employee, so not likely.

Of course, when the situation turns dire, they will also have to manage dwindling water and food supplies. It will be a case of surviving in the wild as well as surviving a psycho killer, especially when they go “off trail.”

Desolation cleverly pays homage to 1970s exploitation films with its key art and opening credits, but it is actually a surprisingly tight and restrained character-driven psycho-stalker thriller. All three primaries have believably complicated relationships with each other as well as the dearly departed, which gives the film real stakes. Jaimi Paige, Alyshia Ochse, and Toby Nichols all give realistically grounded performances, completely eschewing flashy theatrics or phony sentiment. If there is a weak link, it would be the evil hiker, who is a somewhat pedestrian bogeyman by genre standards

Regardless, viewers will definitely care about these characters’ fates, which is too often not the case in slasher-stalker horror movies. In fact, Patton and screenwriters Matt Anderson & Michael Larson-Kangas devote more time to character development than a great many non-genre films. Patton also rather slyly plays with our horror movie expectations down the stretch. It is the sort of film Backcountry should have been, but wasn’t. Recommended for discerning horror fans, Desolation should find an appreciative audience after premiering at this year’s LAFF.

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