Desert Road (2024)


Desert Road Review

The story actually begins way before the Desert Road, which is a smart, trippy chiller that takes the conventions of survival horror and spins them in a completely unexpected — and ultimately pretty moving — direction. In her debut as a director, Shannon Triplett demonstrates an understanding of genre dynamics sophisticated enough to allow for a bold use of space (a stretch of the Mojave Desert standing in for Death Valley) that only grows more compelling as the film’s secrets are revealed. At which point its borders begin to dissolve, slipping between horror and sci-fi in ways that suggest what might happen if you blended Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless into Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls.

The person at hand is Clare Devoir (Kristine Froseth), a twentysomething photographer who’s giving up after too many letdowns as an artist in Los Angeles. Driving back to her mother’s place in Iowa, she stops at a remote gas station to fill up on gas — and maybe use the restroom? Its pasty-faced attendant Randy (Max Mattern), Norman Bates-like but not quite so kind, is on edge; his stilted attempts at conversation make Clare uneasy enough that she invents a boyfriend sleeping on the back seat … a lie that will soon be humiliatingly exposed.

A few hundred yards down the road from the gas station, chatting with her mother over Bluetooth, Clare is distracted by an ominous text message demanding “Call this number.” Then her car seems to blow out a tire; it ends up stuck on a rock at the side of the road. Shocky and woozy herself now, Clare must return to the gas station and call Steve — or someone named Steve anyway — who she says drives the town’s only tow truck; he must be paid over her cellphone beforehand. As she waits for it to come, she takes walks around what seems like nothing but hills near a disused factory. But is it?

Walking off on foot, Clare has various theories rolling around in her head that would set the stage for a typical horror movie where an urban but not very streetwise woman is trapped in a backwater conspiracy. But instead of leading her away, all the paths lead eventually back to the car. No matter which way she goes — left or right, up or down — she’s stuck in a loop between the car and the gas station … and the factory.

From this point on it’s objective truth no longer applies, and Clare finds herself in a world that is like a set of Russian dolls – one inside the other – or perhaps a series of parallel universes running backwards and forwards through time until we finally understand just why Randy has been so worried all along. (“You’re not real!” he screams at Clare, shortly before everything gets explained. “How can you use a phone?”) Meanwhile, she becomes interested in an old woman who lives up in the hills; a ghost-like figure reminiscent of Grandma Death from Donnie Darko, another film about time and fate.

There’s too much going on here to get it all in one sitting, but there must be some sort of cult following out there for this thrilling brain-teaser à la Primer. For her first time out with such a difficult idea Triplett does very well indeed but also Froseth should be commended because without her performance this could easily have come across as being purely cerebral.

Watch Desert Road For Free On Gomovies.

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