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Deserted (2017) Review

A troubled woman faces her greatest challenge in the truths of the desert.

Deserted is a 2017 drama about a woman with a past, now living with her brother, who take a trip into Death Valley, only to become hopelessly lost.

After serving two years, Jae (Mischa Barton) is released from prison, a twenty-four-year old woman with a darkness about her looking to start again. She moves in with her brother Robin (Jackson Davis), who strives to make her comfortable, though there is a lingering shade of discomfort between them. He is dating Rosemary (Winter Ave Zoli), a girl Jae knew in high school, whom she is not friendly. But more so, because Jae was sent to jail for killing their mother, something we only know at first as happening, the reasons for yet to be explained.

As the two find ways to come together, she notices on his calendar an event called Burn the Moon in Death Valley, a two-day music festival in the desert and asks to come along, which he readily agrees, thinking it will be a good opportunity for her to know Rosemary better and get her mind off of her past. They load up their car and the three are joined by Heather (Dana Rosendorff) and Jasmine (Kelly Brannigan), two friends of Rosemary’s. 

Once in the valley though, they experience car trouble and are forced to consider abandoning the trip until three men in a camper van offer them a ride to the concert. Feeling some trust and wanting to have fun, the gang agrees and the group head out, though that night, they take a wrong turn and end up on an off-road vehicle path and get stuck, miles and miles from civilization. With no cell service, they decide to camp out, drink and party a bit and figure it out in the morning. When that morning comes though, tragedy wakes with them and soon they realize that Death Valley has called their numbers and each face a horror that there might be no escape.

Written and directed by Ashley Avis, Deserted sounds like it might be a monster in the dark creature feature and in some ways it is, though that monster is the desert itself and the demons that divide the slowly crumbling spirits of those trapped in it. Walking a similar theme as Gus Van Sant‘s 2002 Gerry, where two brothers become lost in the desert and try to survive, Deserted is presented less metaphorically and much more talky, though that film was infamously lacking in dialogue as it spent most of its curious runtime showcasing the two leads (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) simply walking. Here, Avis has far more characters and uses them to create specific conflicts, each of them an archetype that naturally don’t blend well beyond a superficial experience, meaning a concert is fine but staying alive in the desert, something altogether different. 

Deserted, 2017 © Winterstone Pictures

We learn that Jae may have done her mother a favor in ending her life and it shifts her into a different light, though we never truly get to understand her motivations entirely, nor Robin’s, a brother torn between the great love he has for Rosemary and the bond he has with Jae. It’s tempting to assign something deeper to the film in terms of themes and who these people represent, as they all possess something that could mark Jae’s path in life, with each of their fates like shedding petals on a flower that needs to die in order to bloom again. There is a case to be made that everything from the shuttered car all the way to the final shot might be allegorical, giving some interesting opportunities for interpretation. 

A quite film, the young-people-in-an-isolated-location has all the makings for a standard horror movie, yet this is anything but, even if lines can be drawn between the two. The movie spends almost all of its time in the desert, and as such, is beautifully photographed by Garrett O’Brien, who captures some impressive vistas and sets the oppressive, stranded sense of solitude the group faces.

Deserted is well-written and purposefully paced, an ensemble film that looks to speak about the personal odyssey of a troubled young woman, layering it in some truly harrowing realities. Barton is well-cast, grounded and burdened, well-supported by the others even if there might be a few too many characters and at 92 minutes still feels lengthy. Avis challenges us by stripping away action and creating something more character-driven and while not every relationship and encounter feels always authentic, there is a lot here that will give enthusiasts for the genre much to think about.

Deserted releases on February 28th.

Deserted (2017) Review

Movie description: Deserted is a 2017 drama about a woman with a past, now living with her brother, who take a trip into Death Valley, only to become hopelessly lost.

Director(s): Ashley Avis

Actor(s): Mischa Barton, Jackson Davis, Winter Ave Zoli

Genre: Drama

  • Our Score
User Rating 3.86 (7 votes)
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