Review: Emotional ‘Desolation’ and Woodland Horror

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Toby Nichols and Jaimi Paige in “Desolation.”

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IFC Midnight

Working a low body count and a slow burn, “Desolation” is a decent short film that’s been unwisely expanded to feature length. A psycho-in-the-woods tale whose villain is more funny-looking than alarming, this debut effort from the director Sam Patton is notable mainly for the beautifully organic performances of its two female leads. In tandem with Matt Anderson and Michael Larson-Kangas’s surprisingly sensitive script, the women create a believably intimate bond between their beleaguered characters.

Both are unsettled from the outset. Abby (Jaimi Paige), recently widowed, is struggling to reconcile her grief with that of her 13-year-old son, Sam (Toby Nichols). At the same time, her longtime friend Jen (Alyshia Ochse) is surveying the emotional gaps in her own life and mulling a major decision. All three have hiked into the wilderness to scatter the deceased’s ashes on his favorite mountain; behind them, a hooded stranger (Claude Duhamel) silently follows.

Video

Trailer: ‘Desolation’

A preview of the film.


By SAM PATTON FILMS on Publish Date December 12, 2017.


Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive.

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For a long time, this mystery stalker does little but lurk, periodically releasing spooky blasts of vintage music — presumably to get his hack-’em-up mojo going. Though with neither dialogue nor obvious motivation, he’s less a character than an abstract mechanism to force an emotional catharsis: a trigger for mother and son to reboot and reconnect.

This repeated tilt toward tenderness slackens the tension, and, as Andi Obarski’s camera sweeps swiftly past the nasty bits, we sense that neither she nor her director is gung-ho for gore. Instead, they give their leads a gift rarely bestowed on attractive young women in horror movies: to be observed without being fetishized.

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