The desert, big, hostile and unforgiving. Death Valley, the desert on steroids. The setting of countless films of all genres from westerns to horror, Death Valley is one of the most hostile places on Earth and a natural setting for films. And it’s there that writer/director Ashley Avis has set her debut feature Deserted.
Jae (Mischa Barton) has just been released from prison after doing time for killing her mother. Returning home to live with her brother Robin (Jackson Davis) who is engaged to Rosemary (Winter Ave Zoli) with whom Jae has some bad history. In an attempt to smooth out their difficulties the trio, along with a couple of friends head out to a Burning Man like festival Burn the Moon. When their SUV dies they get a ride with a couple of guys heading to the festival. When their SUV dies they find themselves stranded in one of the most inhospitable places around. A place that may well become their grave.
Deserted is the director’s passion project and she revised the script for several years while working on advertising campaigns for Coke and Red Bull among others. The result is a film that while keeping on a consistent path never quite goes where you expect. It starts as a drama then teases at going into The Hills Have Eyes territory with the introduction of extremely creepy mechanics played by Jake Busey and former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach before becoming a human vs nature thriller that plays down the deaths and the thriller aspects in favor of the personal drama and revelations.
Admittedly I was hoping for more of a suspense film and less of a drama, and I can see others being disappointed at the direction it takes. But taken for what it is it’s quite good. The characters have depth and their interactions feel real to the point we care about them and feel it as despair sets in and they start to crumble under the weight of their situation. Be sure to stick around as the credits roll, the fate of one of the characters is revealed in the middle of them.
The cast and director do a great job in making everything believable but two behind the crew members deserve special praise. Luigi Pulcini provides a very effective score that picked up several awards nominations on the festival circuit and Garrett O’Brien’s cinematography makes the desert look truly beautiful and, as events unfold, hostile and deadly. Both add greatly to the final impact of the film.
Invincible Pictures will be releasing Deserted February 28th on Cable VOD and Digital HD.