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DESERTED (2016) review

February 28, 2017

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written by: Ashley Avis
produced by: Ashley Avis, Keith A. Fox, Larry Humnel & Edward Winters
directed by: Ashley Avis
rated: unrated
runtime: 97 min.
U.S. release date: February 28, 2016 (Amazon, FlixFling, iTunes & VOD)

 

I have a certain affinity for stories revolving around recently released convicts who try to figure out what their next step will be as well as survival stories that follow a group of characters who must test their mettle under harsh natural elements. These are usually subgenres of the dramatic/thriller variety and they happen to come together in “Deserted”, a film written and directed by Ashley Avis, which is being marketed as a psychological thriller. While it’s neither psychological or thrilling, it does have location going for it with Death Valley, California, becoming one of the more prominent characters in the film. Unfortunately, the wondrous and vast landscape is outnumbered by predominately annoying characters who wind up making this quite a pain-staking and tedious viewing experience.

The film opens with Jae (Mischa Barton) getting released from a two-year sentence in a Southern California prison for killing her mother. She is greeted and picked up by her older brother, Robin (Jackson Davis), who brings her home hoping to help her assimilate back into the real world. Feeling somewhat awkward and restless with her freedom, Jae asks her brother about an event she notices he plans on attending the upcoming weekend called “Burn the Moon”, which he explains is a two-day music festival (think “Burning Man”) he and his girlfriend, Rosemary (Winter Ave Zoli), will be attending. Fearing being alone with herself, she states her she wants to join them.

We get the idea she needs to. This brings to mind James Whitmore’s character Brooks from “The Shawshank Redemption”, who after spending his life in prison – and making a content life for himself there – he felt “institutionalized” upon his release and didn’t know what to do with himself upon being released. Maybe there’s some of that going on with Jae. Although she was served a short stint in jail, one can only assume killing one’s mother will leave an indelible pang of guilt or regret on their conscience. Possibly. After all, we’re still getting to know what Jae is all about.

 

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A group is formed for their road trip into the desert when two childhood friends of the siblings join them, Heather (Dana Rosendorff) and Jasmine (Kelly Brannigan), which finds Jae in somewhat of a predicament as the fifth wheel. Everyone has someone but her. She thought she’d avert being along, but here she is sitting in a back seat of an SUV, feeling alone. That right there is something we can all relate to. Something we’ve experienced in a car ride with our friends (or our friend’s friends) at some point.

Like all road trip movies populated by self-involved twentysomethings, their vehicle breaks down and the group winds up on the side of the road. To the rescue comes a friendly local named Clay (played by a game Jake Busey), someone who Jasmine sizes up as a dim bulb hick as she rolls her eyes to herself. Clay tows Robin’s vehicle to a roadside garage that’s attached to a bar (of course), where he hooks them up with a mechanic named Archer (played by Sebastian Bach, yes former lead singer of the metal band Skid Row), who confirms repairs will take a couple days. Now what?

As it turns out, there are three dudes chilling in the bar, Troy (Trent Ford), Dax (Michael Milford) and Wade (Tyler Sellers), who are down from Reno and happen to be going to the same music festival. Troy takes a shine to Jae, who doesn’t seem to interested in reciprocating, but he nevertheless offers them a life in their roomy RV since they’re all going to the same place. Despite Robin’s reservations, they take off at sunset…in a recreational vehicle with three strangers they just met. What could possibly go wrong? Well, add some booze and drugs (even some homemade peyote) and pretty soon all eight of them are stranded at night, off-road and stuck.

 

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They think waiting it out till morning will help, but we soon realize pretty much everyone but Jae and Robin are panicky and short-fused. Both of those attributes increase for all of them when they realize the battery on the RV is dead. Being lost in Death Valley is bad, but what’s worse is being lost with this group. Things get real serious when one of them is found dead in their tent from an apparent drug overdose. They realize they need to get out of there if they have any chance of getting help – there’s gotta be a road somewhere out there.

But the desert is an unforgiving place and with their water supply and numbers dwindling, Jae and Robin must figure out a way to remain level-headed and not get swept up in the hopeless panic that entertains the possibility of dying. Jae is probably thinking she was better off in prison.

I’ll come right out and say I have a very hard time following whiny, obnoxious and annoying twentysomethings in any film genre. That’s why I couldn’t stand “The Blair Witch Project”. Most of the time, I just wanted to slap those characters and I felt some of that come back while watching the clueless characters in “Deserted”.  Most of the characters here written by Avis are just flat-out annoying, not to mention quite stereotypical. There’s always a stuck-up hot chic (at least in her own mind) in high heels and some affable schluby dude who nervously rambles on, offering comic relief, that populate movies with this kind of scenario. It’s bad enough that most of these characters are annoying, but one they’re also extremely one-dimensional, watching them becomes a chore and a bore.

Also, for some reason every other word from these characters, save for Jae and Robin, are F-Bombs. Now, I’m no prude. I can tolerate profanity in movies because I kind of expect it, but when it’s just about every other word, it becomes noticeable. When it becomes noticeable, it draws attention to itself and doesn’t feel real. In this particular case, it’s super-annoying. The more I heard it uttered from the vapid lips of these characters, the less I cared about them, the less I got to know them and the more I wanted them to just waste away in the desert (thankfully, that last part came true).

Throughout most of “Deserted”, I had a hard time believing what was going on with these characters. Eventually, I just had to resolve myself that they’re pretty much all dumb. All of them. And all of them deserve what’s happening to them. The harsh environment isn’t their enemy – they are.

Despite not liking the characters, dialogue and overall story “Deserted” offers, I did appreciate Ashley Avis’  direction and use of geography. Death Valley is amazing and an otherwordly place to behold. I’d be interested in seeing what else Avis has to offer, albeit with some trepidation.

NOTE: IMDb lists veteran actor Lance Henriksen (“Aliens”, “Millennium”) as part of the cast, playing someone named Hooper. Unless he’s incognito, I don’t recall seeing him anywhere, which leaves me quite curious. I wonder what happened there.

 

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RATING: *1/2

 

 

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