Horror in the High Desert (2021) Will Ensure You Never Take a Solo Hike Again
Title: Horror in the High Desert
First Wide Release: March 27, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Dutch Martin
Writer: Dutch Martin
Runtime: 82 Minutes
Starring: Eric Mencis, Tonya Williams Ogden, Suziey Block
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Gary Hinge (Eric Mencis) is a hardcore survivalist that thrives off enduring the harshness of the Nevada terrain. One day on such an expedition Gary vanishes. When he doesn’t show up to take care of his dog, whom he left in his roommate’s care, his sister, Beverly (Tonya Williams Ogden) begins an investigation. Soon, after the police are involved, his car shows up in a place where Tonya insists Gary would never visit. Discovery after discovery leads authorities to believe that something really sinister happened to Gary.
A chilling mockumentary directed with confidence; Horror in the High Desert doesn’t quite reach the heights of its contemporaries but still delivers quality thrills.
Presented in faux-documentary style, which is a personal favorite setup of mine in the found footage subgenre, Horror in the High Desert takes viewers into the bizarre disappearance of a rather introverted Nevadan. The small cast earnestly sells their roles as close family and friends of Gary and those trying their best to assist in finding him. What starts as a bit clunky, soon catches fire after a second act reveal which culminates into a pulse-pounding ending. While the catalyst moment does lack believability, it does give the film the necessary energy it needs to propel into something special.
I appreciate that Horror in the High Desert uses its found footage angle sparingly. It adds to the realism and is way more haunting to have the horror play out like this. It’s a more subdued approach to horror and found footage that I wish more filmmakers decided to take. To me, the scariest thing will always be what you don’t see. Horror in the High Desert gives the viewer just enough to achieve this. It takes this same approach with the plot. The film answers some questions while leaving others unanswered. It feels true to form with its mockumentary approach.
The minimalistic cast and scope of production aids in this feeling. Each person is interviewed in a slightly different way. Some interviews are clearly taken over the course of one session in a single location while others are timed over the course of days, maybe even weeks. This adds a little bit of dynamic contrast to the rather slow-building plot. It is clever to portray Beverly as an unreliable narrator. She didn’t know Gary as well as she thought she did. It shows just how ignorant some folk’s family members are to their loved ones, and it helps when the film asks us to take a big leap in logic. The best part is that she is still sympathetic and not villainized for her lack of awareness. She’s human and grieving after all.
There are some weak aspects to the film that should be discussed. At times it is repetitive, falling down rabbit holes and paths that it has already covered. This particularly manifests when talking with certain characters. There is a lack of star quality attached to those in the film. This works as an advantage and disadvantage in that it makes for really authentic storytelling but otherwise makes the film suffer in some quality of character decisions.
Horror in the High Desert is a surprisingly affecting indie gem. I would be remiss to omit its flaws but overall, it has a relatively tight script, an unsettling tone, and a unique approach to backwoods horror that I haven’t seen done well in a while. For fans of found footage, you will find much to love about this film and for fans of horror in general, there are a few slow burn scares that are worth waiting for here. Horror can be found anywhere but Horror in the High Desert is a destination that horror fans should seek out, especially while it is free to stream.
Overall Score? 6.5/10