The Big Bend tells the story of family man Corey Price (Jason Butler Harner) taking his brood on a trip to West Texas. They visit their friends, the Talbotts, who live in Terlingua, at the edge of Big Bend National Park. The Prices currently face several challenges as a family, and we learn the Talbotts have their own issues gathering around them like storm clouds. Georgia Talbott (Erica Ash) has decided to leave her husband, Mac (David Sullivan), and their stress is running high.
Nevertheless, they distract themselves from the vicissitudes of life by taking in Big Bend’s grand, remote scenery. The mountains and deserts around Terlingua are breathtakingly beautiful. On a night hike, one of the children, Fiona (Delilah Wagner), goes missing from the trail, and the local authorities are brought in to help. Fiona, who seemingly marches to her own beat, has simply taken off on a solo adventure that brings her to a remote house where an escaped convict named Karl (Nick Masciangelo) is hiding. She informs him that she’s hungry, and he feeds her.
Whatever Karl is (or isn’t) guilty of, he’s decent enough to take care of Fiona. He even decides to get her back to her family. During his escape, he stole a car from a junkyard. It took some effort to get it running, but he’s able to, despite the fact that it’s little more than an engine and wheels on an open chassis. Unfortunately, the passenger side seatbelt is missing, so he duct-tapes Fiona into the seat, and they take off down a dirt road to get her back home. Meanwhile, the Talbotts and Prices begin to crack under the strain of the crisis while trying to navigate all the other stressors in their lives.
“…Fiona goes missing from the trail…”
Director-writer Brett Wagner based The Big Bend on an incident in which one of his children was briefly lost in the national park. It’s an experience that stuck with him. The immediacy of the raw, unforgiving landscape sets an electric stage for the tale. The desert is unmerciful, and when Fiona goes missing, everyone fears the worst.
Filming in Terlingua results in beautiful images of the vastness of nature and open sky. The scenes with Karl and Fiona in the moon rover car are just pure fun. Masciangelo is a huge, Rob Zombie-esque man with long hair and a beard, and the image looks like something from a ZZ Top video when they take off across the desert.
The performances are solid throughout, with standout moments from Erica Ash and Jason Butler Harner. The story gets too busy, with one too many threads running through it, but that doesn’t take away from most of the drama, which works well. Texas is a world apart, and there’s a mystique to films made there that can’t be found in any other genre. The land is unique in America and brings forth people with their own approach to life. Texas films and other cultural artifacts like music and food are as uniquely tuned to their provenance as are stories of places like the Gothic South; politics notwithstanding, Texas is a rare gem. With The Big Bend, Wagner has created strong characters in a compelling setting with that special Texas magic.
"…beautiful images of the vastness of nature..."