The Desert (2013) [REVIEW] [SXSW ’14]

Ice cream. Brownies. Chocolate chip cookies. It’s really difficult for me to decide wat my favorite snack is to have after dinner. There are just so many delicious choices! This film comes to us from Argentina so I was looking forward to finding out what other people eat in different parts of the world. I was told this movie had some horror elements to it, so it’s probably people who have to eat a bunch of gross food that they don’t really like. WAIT…FUCK, IT’S CALLED “THE DESERT“? GODDAMMIT, IT’S PROBABLY ABOUT A BUNCH OF STUPID GODDAMNED SAND.

Some mysterious disease or virus or infection or zombie-esque type of pandemic has taken over Buenos Aires. Among the survivors, we see that friends Johnathan (William Prociuk) and Axel (Lautaro Delgado) along with Ana (Victoria Almeida), who appears to be dating one of them. Seems like an awkward situation all around, but it’s clarified that Ana is dating Jonathon despite having some sort of history with Axel. With Jonathan’s experience as an engineer, the group doesn’t appear to be in any sort of imminent danger, routinely taking excursions outside of their apartment to look for supplies. To cope with the isolation, the group has taken to recording video diaries that are locked away, serving as therapy of expressing their thoughts as opposed to chronicling their experiences. When Axel discovers he can watch the tapes, we see the details of his relationship with Ana and how things crumbled. Shit gets even more tense when Ana discovers Axel has been watching the videos while Jonathan remains oblivious.  As this apocalyptic love triangle unfolds, we learn that your body can remain completely intact while also managing to lose your humanity.

Hard to imagine you can have a “zombie” movie that only has four actors in it. I might have only mentioned three, but that’s because at point Axel captures a zombie to use as a punching bag. Although the themes of the movie aren’t subtle, the real horror is in watching writer/director Christopher Behl take his time getting there. Every zombie movie typically has a section where the characters have to come to terms with the fact that they are completely alone in the world, but The Desert really explores that concept to the fullest. At times you could even forget that was any sort of supernatural forces at play since the only time any of the characters show true fear is when Jonathan hears a potential new survivor outside.

The three leads carry the weight of the situation fantastically which is especially hard when things are so contained and there are so many quiet moments. When most “horror” movies would use something like supplies running out as a way to heighten the tension and let the audience know there’s an urgency for these characters, the way we measure the progression of time is through a series of tattoos that Axel gives himself. He’s covering his entire body with a hundreds and hundreds of tattoos of flies, symbolic of the flies swarming around the apartment constantly since these three are the only fresh meat. Axel makes it clear he’s leaving once he’s fully covered, but it’s like, what the fuck? Fly tattoos? They look so dumb, bro! Why not cover yourself in badass tattoos? Or maybe tattoos that serve some sort of function to help you outside of this apartment? Even though The Desert didn’t fall into the “running out of supplies” trope, the timeline that the characters set up was just as arbitrary, even if it was somewhat unique. I feel compelled to make some sort of super catchy and deep statement like “The Desert proves you can lose your humanity and become a monster just by existing in a world of monsters but then again who’s the REAL monster us or the monsters because we are monsters at heart” or something but…wait, that wasn’t really catchy. For horror fans who prefer the slow descent into madness as opposed to the gore of the undead, then check out The Desert. If that’s not really what you’re into, then who’s the REAL monster, huh?! It’s you. It’s probably you.

Wolfman Moon Scale

three quarters moon

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