It’s incredibly strange to think that George W. Bush’s presidency was almost 20 years ago, and at that time, we all thought there was no way that things could get any worse as far as leadership goes. Unfortunately, we were sadly mistaken. The outcome of the 2016 election certainly proved otherwise. However, there were definitely quite a few disastrous events that occurred during Bush’s presidency that brought us to where we are today, none the least of those being 9/11, followed by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
What does this have to do with anything? Well besides everything that’s happening in world politics, the Bush presidency is a major background character in Michael Stevantoni’s Salton Sea (also known as Desert Shores, which is a title I wish they would’ve kept due to the fact that there is another movie called The Salton Sea starring Val Kilmer which is an underrated masterpiece).
“The three live a simple life in the way-outskirts of Los Angeles, in 2002…”
Brian (Joel Bissonnette) is a construction foreman in Yucca Valley, California. He’s married to Ramona (Keylor Leigh), and they live in a trailer with her daughter Judith (April Marshall-Miller). Judith was a child from Ramona’s first marriage, but for all intents and purposes, she considers Brian to be her father. The three live a simple life in the way-outskirts of Los Angeles, in 2002.
Brian is seemingly happy but wants more out of life, which is pretty much the American milieu, if you think about it. He applies for a much higher-paying job that is based out of Washington D.C. without telling his wife. He didn’t actually think he would get it. However, he does. He’s very excited about the prospect to finally afford to buy a house and provide a more comfortable life for his family. What he didn’t expect to happen are the D.C. sniper attacks which took place over the course of three weeks in October of 2002.
Ramona, understandably, doesn’t want to move to D.C. in the midst of such insanity, which during the film, didn’t seem to have an end. She also wants to stay close to her father/ Judith’s grandfather. Brian is trying desperately to convince her that this is the best option. In an attempt to rescue their relationship and to further convince Ramona that moving to DC is what they should do, they revisit the Salton Sea, which is where they had their honeymoon.
“…where the film takes place, and the philosophical implications of fatherhood, war, and love are all explored without really being said out loud.”
The imagery of all the abandoned buildings and old motels in The Salton Sea is a reminder of an America that no longer exists. 9/11 was also the start of a new chapter for the United States so essentially the time where this film takes place is a glimpse of how Americans were trying to restructure their lives in a new world full of fear and anxiety. This can be illustrated in a scene where Ramona and Brian visit their friends Mark (Sam Cain) and Haley (Aryè Campos). Mark has just purchased a gun and uses racist terminology in reference to Middle Eastern people. Brian borrows Mark’s gun and goes to target practice with a bartender he has a crush on named Annie (Olivia May), both of which Ramona doesn’t know about. She eventually finds out about the gun, while they’re on vacation.
At the beginning of the movie, Brian is sitting with his father, Richard (Jack G. Davis), watching while the first space shuttle landed. Richard tells Brian that he is going to be a good man. This moment sticks out in Brian’s head and in a way it is the thing that keeps him going. He wants to believe that he will be a good man someday, without realizing that he already is.
Salton Sea has a pretty simple story on the surface, and it’s not a long movie, but where the film takes place, and the philosophical implications of fatherhood, war, and love are all explored without really being said out loud. So with that, I will say that Michael Stevantoni and Tim Rousseau’s script is very impressive. Thomas Tauger’s cinematography brilliantly captures the desolate beauty of The Salton Sea and the simplicity of Yucca Valley. All-in-all for what seems like a sleeper indie, the film says volumes without words, which is something that not everyone can get away with, but I think, in this case, the crew behind Salton Sea was successful, although I really wish they would have stuck to their original title.
Salton Sea (2019) Directed by Michael Stevantoni. Written by Michael Stevantoni and Tim Rousseau. Based on the book by George McCormick. Starring Joel Bissonnette, Keylor Leigh, April Marshall-Miller, Olivia May, Giovanni Herrera, Jack G. Davis, Sam Cain, Aryè Campos, Todd Forrester
7 out of 10 stars