I like to learn at least one thing from every movie I watch, and if DESERTED (2016) has taught me anything, it's not to go galumphing off into Death Valley in an RV full of strangers in the middle of the night.
Because before you know it, you could be right in the middle of a sun-baked predicament movie where the simple act of staying alive will eventually become a grueling ordeal.
Of course, that's exactly what happens to Jae (Mischa Barton, the poisoned girl in THE SIXTH SENSE), who has just been released from prison for killing her mother (we won't go into that now), and her brother Robin (Jackson Davis), whose bright idea it was for them to go to some dorky weekend music festival that they had to go through Death Valley to get to.
Along for the ride are three other women who grew up with the two siblings and, as it happens, don't really care much for Jae. These include snooty gal-pals Heather (Dana Rosendorff) and Jasmine (Kelly Brannigan), and Rosemary (Winter Ave Zoli, BAD ASS), who, to Jae's dismay, is now engaged to Robin.
These two girls have a history that isn't too good but I'll let you find out about that for yourselves because it's one of those little pockets of character drama interspersed throughout the movie that help make it more interesting.
Naturally Robin's SUV breaks down as soon as they go near Death Valley and they end up getting a ride to the "Burn the Moon" festival with another group of music lovers in a rickety RV, which, as you've already guessed, will also break down just as soon as they're lost in the middle of the desert in the pitch darkness. (With no cell phone reception, natch.)
Up till that point the movie is having a good time teasing us with various red herrings such as a creepy Jake Busey and an unsavory Sebastian Bach as DELIVERANCE types who tow Robin's SUV back to their garage and set about fixing it. Lance Henriksen also pops up for a few seconds somewhere (to tell you the truth, I missed him).
But as it turns out, DESERTED isn't that kind of movie--we needn't worry about bad guys showing up and terrorizing our hapless travelers HILLS HAVE EYES-style. Once they get good and stranded out there, the desert becomes the bad guy and it's downright heartless.
It's a shame, too, because some of the impromptu girl-guy combos are getting along nicely that first night around the cozy campfire and we start warming up to these characters (Jae is especially sympathetic), which makes it all the more heartrending when impending misfortune turns their desert jaunt into a life-or-death situation.
In short order, one person croaks outright due to a peyote overdose, and then once they set off into the desert to try and make their way back to civilization the bad things start to happen one right after another, including a deadly snake bite and a really scary sandstorm that catches them unawares.
I'm loathe to reveal much more, so suffice it to say that this is one of those predicament movies that puts likable, identifiable characters into inescapable peril through which we must suffer with them every step of the way.
The weird thing about it is that the more successful the movie is, the more unpleasant and anxiety-inducing it is for the viewer, as is definitely the case here.
Once they start bickering amongst themselves and going off in different directions, it becomes a matter of who will die when and how badly. (Don't stop watching after the end credits begin or you'll miss out on the fate of one person in particular.)
Unlike many films in this genre, the deaths aren't presented in a sensational manner for our enjoyment, but quietly, matter-of-factly, with emphasis on the senseless and hopeless tragedy of the situation.
Before it's over, each character will bare his or her soul, some to each other and some just to us, the viewer.
DESERTED doesn't try to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller. The suspense is gradual and gripping, and the film is equally intent on conveying how survival instinct can give way to eventual despair when hope becomes futile. It's a good movie, but it doesn't want you to enjoy it very much.
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