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Desolation is a small but sometimes intense little movie about three people being pursued by a mysterious figure while camping in the woods. Pretty, young widow Abby (Jaimi Paige) hikes deep into the mountains with her son Sam (Toby Nichols) and her friend Jen (Alyshia Ochse). They are there to lay to rest the ashes of Abby’s late husband and soon find themselves being followed by a creepy hiker (Claude Duhamel) who may have ill intent for the three.
Disturbing thriller is directed by Sam Patton from a script by Matt Anderson and Michael Larson-Kangas. It gives us a little time to get to know Abby, Sam and Jen and what emotional state they are in, before they start to realize there is someone trailing them as they hike into the mountains and camp. The chills from director Patton start off slowly as the hiker sits quietly staring from a distance, before turning the screws when he brutally let’s us know, what we suspected all along, that this hiker is up to no good. Then it’s a last act struggle to survive with a savage killer in pursuit. Granted this isn’t something new story-wise, with innocents in the middle of nowhere under siege by a deadly attacker. It’s in the telling that the story picks up it’s intensity as Patton has introduced us to three likable characters, two of which who are emotionally vulnerable at the moment. All the more reason to fear for them as their pursuer moves in and reveals his violent and cruel intentions. We may have an idea as to how this will all play out, but it is effective none the less…brutally effective at times. And at only 78 minutes, it is a tight little movie that certainly doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.
The minimal cast all perform well. Jaimi Paige presents a sweet but wounded woman in widowed mom Abby. She’s trying to remain strong and be supportive of her son and we sympathize with her. Paige gives her a down to earth quality that really makes her endearing. Same could be said for Alyshia Ochse as her best friend, Jen. Jen is also a sweet and playful girl-next-door type and she and Paige have a good on-screen chemistry. They are very convincing as friends and their concern for each other, both before and after the hitchhiker makes his presence known, seems sincere. Toby Nichols does a solid job portraying a young boy coping with the death of a parent and then trying to be strong for his mother when they come under attack. A good performance from the young man where he has to convey a wealth of different emotions. Finally, Claude Duhamel imbues his silent hitchhiker with some nice malevolence, using just his body language and facial expressions to convey this guy is not right. Even before he gets violent, we are uncomfortable for our trio when he is around. The film also leaves the aspects of his motivations ambiguous, with enough gruesome clues to form our own conclusions.
An original movie?…No. A well done telling of a familiar tale…quite! Sam Patton keeps the film small and intimate, gives his audience time to get to know and endear to his main characters and then slowly allows his creepy stalker to get closer and closer to our vulnerable trio. He waits sometime for things to get really vicious and then it becomes a brutal struggle to survive against an enigmatic and highly disturbed individual. A good cast and some nice New York State locations help make this a solid survival thriller and a good start to Sam Patton’s feature film resume.
3 extremely concerned hikers.
KILLING GROUND (2017)
Killing Ground is an Australian thriller that finds couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) going on a camping trip in a rural part of the country. They find another vehicle and tent at the campground, yet no occupants seem to be around. Soon Ian and Sam encounter two local “hunters” (Aaron Pedersen and Aaron Glennane) who, unknown to the couple, know exactly what happened to the abandoned tent’s former occupants.
Written and directed by Damien Power, this is an effective but familiar survival thriller. His story is basically in the Wolf Creek ballpark with innocent travelers happening upon deranged locals in a rural setting. What we see is brutal and effective and while certain cruel acts are off-camera, just knowing what is going on induces chills. Power tells his story in a split narrative where we inter-cut scenes of Sam and Ian in the present with scenes from earlier on with the ill-fated family that resided in the now empty tent. It works well enough and once the stories meet it continues to it’s finish within the present timeline. It makes for a grim yet fairly involving 90 minutes, though there are some questions. What drove these two to get homicidal with this family, as it seems they are too sloppy to have done it before and not gotten caught. Also, they are well known to local police, so they would logically be prime suspects if something went askew in that jurisdiction…though the police portrayed here are done so as stereo-typically daft local cops. Still, the film does work well enough and the cast are effective in their roles.
Harriet Dyer is a fine heroine in Sam. She isn’t a damsel and is a fighter when she has something worth protecting. Ian Meadows’ Ian starts out as a likable character, though as the story progresses and it becomes a battle for survival, he shows some unfortunate true colors. As for our bad guys, Pedersen and Glennane make fine deranged locals and even if the characters are well-worn stereotypes, they play them effectively. Again, the problem with them aside from familiarity, is they seem too sloppy in their activities and if this isn’t the first time they’ve done this…previous jail time is mentioned but not why…it’s hard to believe they haven’t already been caught. If this is their first crime of this magnitude, what was it about this family that triggered the violence and cruelty? We never get to know them enough to gives us a clue.
In conclusion, this is an effective but familiar survival thriller. Damien Power directs well enough to make it work better than it should and we are chilled by some of what we see. The film is overall, though, nothing new and there are some questions we are asking once it’s over. Also stars Maya Stange, Julian Garner, Tiarnie Coupland and Liam and Riley Parkes as the ill-fated family whose grim tale unfolds during the film.
THE DEVIL’S DOLLS (2016)
Silly but amusing flick has a cop, Matt (Christopher Wiehl) gunning down a serial killer and taking the killer’s Guatemalan Worry Dolls into evidence. Upon visiting his ex-wife’s (Samantha Smith) house, his little girl (Kennedy Brice) sees the dolls in his car and takes them. The dolls are possessed by the killer’s evil essence and now anyone who comes into possession of one gets possessed themselves and kills…still with me? Now Matt must recover the dolls before more people meet gruesome ends and free his daughter of the killer’s spirit.
Directed by Padraig Reynolds from a script by Danny Kolker and star Christopher Wiehl, it feels like someone read about Guatemalan Worry Dolls and cobbled together a story to use them. The result is a hodgepodge of a horror mixing possessed dolls, possessed people and a Guatemalan witch doctor (Tina Lifford) living in the middle of the woods (for exposition, of course) in a shack bigger than most people’s condos. If the film has a strong point, it is that there is plenty of gore and it is well rendered and quite abundant and somehow director Reynolds seems to keep the silliness somewhat amusing for the flick’s 85 minute run. It’s never scary, though never boring either. An unintentionally goofy flick and on that level it does entertain despite how bad it all really is.