Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: David Moscow
Writer: Matthew McCarty, Craig Walendziak
Producer: Gregory Thomas, Luke Edwards, David Harris, Todd Remis
Stars: Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Brock Kelly, Ninja Devoe, Raymond J. Barry
Resurfacing trauma causes a young woman to question her sanity when she moves in with a Hollywood heartthrob seemingly connected to a voyeuristic conspiracy.
Katie Connor didn’t share the common celebrity crush on actor Jay Cutter. She didn’t even know who he was. But a chance film shoot in Katie’s hometown brought the troubled assault survivor and the Hollywood heartthrob together. Now Katie gets to live out a romance novel dream as Jay’s live-in girlfriend, having accompanied him back to Los Angeles in hopes of exorcising old ghosts through a fresh start.
Dreams have a habit of turning into nightmares at Jay’s apartment building, The Providence. Despite Jay’s success, he lives one step above squalor in an old L.A. landmark with a reputation for murder and suicide. It’s the kind of place where if tap water tastes funny, someone might want to check the rooftop reservoir for a decomposing body.
Katie pauses in midair while being swept off her feet when a sudden job opportunity calls Jay away. Left alone inside this sinister sibling of The Bramford, Katie could swear other residents and Jay’s strange circle of friends are conspiring against her. Why and for what, Katie can’t be certain. Just like she can’t be certain if what she fears is real or a figment of her medication-addled imagination. As visions of a ghostly little girl intensify along with other odd encounters, Katie comes to suspect she made a grave mistake by moving in with Jay, and it could cost Katie either her mind or her life.
Director David Moscow’s “Desolation,” doomed to be mixed up with Sam Patton’s woodland thriller (review here) bearing the same title and release year, is 1/3 linear narrative, 1/3 Lifetime movie boilerplate, and 1/3 experimental indie. It’s this eclectic concoction that sharpens both edges of the film’s sword. One of those edges makes for a weirdly intriguing setup with an artfully off-kilter atmosphere. The other side curiously cuts with a slow build to a silly reveal that doesn’t sustain enough suspense to etch a deep mark.
Making his directorial debut here, David Moscow has been acting since 1986. The “experimental indie” texture found in his film clearly comes out of Moscow’s performance background, as characterizations motivate mood as much as cinematography or set design. A similar actor-oriented aesthetic can be seen in Tara Subkoff’s “#Horror” (review here), for example.
Understandably when experienced actors flip to the other side of the camera, performances take the wheel. “Desolation” drives down a bumpy road though, because uneven acting can’t keep everything convincing. Veteran actor Raymond J. Barry’s presence overpowers every scene he appears in. Barry stays the standout in his juicy turn as a mysterious neighbor, yet he spends less time on screen than his counterparts. That’s problematic for other players. Dominik Garcia-Lorido has the capacity to hold her own as Katie, but isn’t always afforded the opportunity to prove it. Staging often relegates Garcia-Lorido to moments of mopey introspection that aren’t visually engaging. And Brock Kelly as Jay, frankly, doesn’t have the magnetism to read as a love interest worth upending one’s life for.
Even with these cards on the table, exploratory acting gives the film its unusual personality. “Desolation” lands in a nebulous place where the triangle of its three leads melds hits and misses for a weird reality emblematic of the atypical tone. It doesn’t fully work, and is probably unintended, but the movie would be more milquetoast without that odd element.
Of course, the nature of the premise and underlying themes of abuse and gender dynamics suggest the Lifetime layer referred to earlier. “Desolation” is far too dark to play as a soapy MOW drama, however. In fact, viewers sensitive to the subject should be advised that the film features a number of rape trauma triggers, including one of particularly poor taste involving a rubber glove and olive oil whose necessity is arguable.
“Desolation” feels slightly dreamy at first, yet its sequential story eventually floats to the surface. Once the plot fully takes shape, the film dips into more traditional territory with a “what’s really going on?” mystery playing alongside “is it all in her head?” psychological horror. Far from original as thrillers go, this is where the script travels a trodden path toward familiar formula. Overall value isn’t entirely depleted, although a preposterous twist and predictable climax fold a pedestrian flavor into the recipe for routine.
Weighing both sides to everything above, “Desolation” steps off the scale as a respectable first feature from David Moscow, but one that doesn’t blaze any trails. Attracting attention for its mildly bizarre initial atmosphere, rational moves take the movie off track as a darkly nightmarish drama. Its final position as a mediocre mystery doesn’t aspire high enough to lift what’s left above a middle ground of average entertainment.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 55