A film that adds to my belief of never going outdoors.
Desolation is Sam Patton’s first feature-length film, and it has been on Netflix for a little while (I think). I hadn’t heard of this little creeper before, and that is unfortunate.
We get an interesting style here—it is at once both nostalgic and new. A lot of the nature scenes are unfiltered, which reminds me of 1980s horror, but the definition is high. The credits, music, and style all beckon towards the nostalgic period of horror. The nostalgia fest that horror has been going through for a while isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but aside from a nice dressing, it doesn’t add much.
The story follows two women, Abby and Jen, and a young boy named Sam who are spreading the ashes of his father in the wilderness. (I got a little mixed on the names). Early on, Sam sees that a lone hiker is following them, and while this seems harmless at first, things begin to take a more sinister tone almost immediately.
These nature horror films used to be more common, and I am glad that this and The Ritual are bringing back the role of the wilderness in nature. (Do we really need another haunted house?). Anyway, we get a rather thin story, but it does overall work. Tropes do rear their tropey heads and we have to deal with those, and it is a slow film. People wanting what I am beginning to call loud-horror (or jump scare heavy horror) will likely be bored here.
However, Desolation doesn’t have the narrative chops to be making a larger point about life, love, family, or philosophy like It Follows, VVitch, or Hereditary. I am not trying to say that this is bad, but we have a film that is kind of between worlds. It isn’t philosophical, but it isn’t designed for cheap thrills, either.
The performances are natural, and aside from a couple awkward scenes the acting is quite good. These feel like real people, and the trauma of loss creeps up in realistic ways. We go from laughter to sadness quickly, and this adds a weight to the people. Abby and Jen feel like real friends—and this is what makes this an interesting film (for the first half). The kid does a good job being a kid, but that includes being kind of annoying.
Where audiences seem to be having an issue is the motivations (or lack thereof) of our mysterious stalker. The motivations are never really given, and on the one hand I think this is smart: how often do victims know the motivations? The problem is that we as the audience can’t reason it out without more detail. I don’t think this breaks a film—sometimes pointless violence is the point. However, this film can’t juggle this idea as adeptly as others have.
For me, the larger problem is how long it takes our party to realize there is something wrong with being followed by a random person. It is easy to imagine doing things differently when watching horror, but they are too nonchalant. I think it would have helped to have the stalker be at a much larger distance at first—he is within speaking range too soon.
The film is interesting, but delves too quickly into the survival-esque horror moments and away from the character building. It is worth watching, and shows that we might have another new director to pay attention to. If you’re looking for some quiet fun, this one is worth a look. 6/10.