DESERT SON, 2010
Starring: John Bain, Erica Curtis, Nathan Halliday
When a teenage boy is abandoned by his step-father in the middle of the desert, he is taken in by 2 runaways: one a kindhearted and beautiful girl, the other a sick and twisted megalomaniac.
If movies have taught us anything, it's that 1) all step-fathers are raging alcoholics and 2) if you ever get stranded and/or lost in the wilderness and/or desert you're going to get found by psychopaths.
Teenage tennis player Phillip is being driven to (or possibly from... it's not really made clear) tennis camp by his alcoholic step-father. The man begins belittling Phillip, telling him he'll never amount to anything in life and that he's a spoiled brat. When Phillip argues back “Just because you couldn't make anything out of your life doesn't mean I won't make anything of mine”, the step-father pulls the car over in the middle of the desert and kicks Phillip out, leaving him there for dead.
Phillip waits around for several hours before deciding his step-father isn't coming back for him, and begins wandering the desert in search of help. He stumbles upon an abandoned shanty town and passes out with exhaustion. That's when he's found by the kindhearted (and very attractive) Lucy.
Lucy brings Phillip back to her “home”, a shack in an abandoned mining town where she lives with Jack- a pissed off at the world twenty-something who sees himself as man of the house and ruler over the desert wasteland. Jack throws a fit over the sudden appearance of Phillip, but agrees to let him stay after Phillip explains what happened to him.
Jack teaches Phillip the laws of the land (that he is king here, and what he says goes), while also letting him know that he's not welcome. He tells Phillip he can stay IF he earns his keep. And this is where we discover how Jack and Lucy are able to stay alive in the middle of nowhere: pillaging a local upper class community.
Lucy and Phillip become closer and closer before Jack's eyes, which causes him to become more and more unhinged. He begins to show off his dominance more and more... by forceful means. And when one of their pillaging excursions goes horribly wrong, Jack completely cracks, unable to cope with or fess up to what he's done. He becomes even more dangerous, and Lucy and Phillip become even more desperate to get away while still bowing to Jack's increasingly heavy iron fist of “my will be done... or else!”
I've been wanting to see this movie for a while now. I know the two directors of the film personally (we worked together on an indie horror film entitled “The Man Who Collected Food” on which I was a Production Assistant, James Mann was the Director of Photography, and Brandon Nichols was the Art Director), and wanted to show my support by seeing this film that they produced, directed, wrote and shot. So when I saw that the film was now available streaming on Netflix, I didn't hesitate and just pressed Play!
The story is intriguing. It's very ambitious for the low budget that they had, but was pulled off quite well. The dialogue in the film isn't anywhere near as strong as it could be though, especially the words uttered by the meek (and I'm assuming young) Phillip. He sounds weak and trite, and he's just annoying to listen to because most of the words out of his mouth are whining somehow. He does grow as a character, but only briefly. Jack is a great character, although I wish he wouldn't say Phillip's name every single time he talks to him. I'm sure Phillip knows who you're talking to, Jack, when you're the only two on the cliff! Lucy's dialogue was fine and believable though.
Of course, weak dialogue can be forgiven for a good story and good acting. In this movie, both are kind of all over the map. The story is fantastic in places, weak in others, and unfortunately has no ending to speak of. Nothing is resolved. And I realize that in life not everything GETS resolved and sometimes we are are left to our own devices in a world in which we are alone (which I think is the message the directors were trying to get across), but I felt so unfulfilled by the final scene!
The acting is also inconsistent. Nathan Halliday and Erica Curtis were both spot on in their roles of Jack and Lucy, but the primary focus of the movie is put on the character of Phillip. John Bain is sadly very weak in the role of Phillip. His back and forth between stoic timidness and over-the-top acting makes this feel like his first time on camera. And if that were the case I could forgive it, but according to IMDB he's been in six productions prior to this, one of them being an episode of “CSI”! And he was not the only poor actor. Elvis Winterbottom, who played a demented priest, also did a horrific job due to his over-the-top acting that made his scenes feel far more cartoony than they were meant to.
The cinematography in this film is absolutely GORGEOUS, however, and I'd expect nothing less from James Mann (the man is a genius with lighting and deserves to get far bigger productions than the low-budget films and shorts he typically frames.
The editing and sound also work in perfect harmony with one another, and the art design is truly spectacular and demonstrates a production value far greater than the film's actual budget.
In short, as a low-budget indie film, this is an impressive piece that I'm sure will get the directing duo behind it some much deserved recognition and hopefully bigger future jobs. As a film in general, how ever, it's decent but has many disappointments.
I give “Desert Son” a 3 out of 5.
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