After his girlfriend, Annie (Teagan Vincze), dumps him, Chad (Jez Bonham) copes with irrational anger and an abundance of alcohol. Fearing that his relationship ended because Annie was stepping out with his best friend, Devon (Justin Sproule), Chad confronts his friend while the two are out one day. As Devon denies the accusation, their confrontation is interrupted by a large explosion coming from downtown. As they race back to town, conflicting news tells of an explosion at a chemical plant, but the “who did it and why” remains unknown.
Things only get worse as Chad and Devon split up. Unable to contact Annie, Chad retreats to his apartment. As the news continues to sporadically pour in regarding the accident, it becomes clear that something else is going on and, by the time his neighbor is banging on his door for refuge from some beastie stalking him, Chad is convinced it’s more than just a “terrorist attack.”
Rob Grant’s Desolate is a grand story told by focusing on the personal. It’s also a perfect example of taking full advantage of limited resources to craft something that resonates beyond its meager production. It has some of the drawbacks that can appear in such an endeavor, but it acquits itself nicely overall.
For one, Rob Grant knows how to craft a film, whether it be via cinematography or creative editing. The film has a certain look to it, gray and foreboding. And digital effects, when utilized, are spot-on. For a film that spends the majority of its time in one apartment, with limited cast, it nevertheless creates a feeling of being a larger film with a bigger budget. When television news footage is used, it looks like we would expect it to look like, not like what often happens, where a film betrays itself in its not-quite-convincing-enough artifice.
Also, the film knows when to show something, and when to keep it in the shadows. For as much abuse as The Blair Witch Project has gotten over the years, it knew to keep that witch off-screen, and let the sound and creepy aesthetic do the work. Likewise here, things remain hidden and, when what is going on is finally revealed, it all comes about in a more natural way. Suddenly a movie in one genre morphs into another and another.
Still, for all its skilled craftsmanship, the film does lose some narrative momentum about midway through; there’s only so long you can watch someone try to make a failed phone call, or check their phone. Additionally, for a film that spends a substantial amount of time with one character, branching out at best to include three, it doesn’t quite offer much in the way of likeable character development. Chad does eventually show a side other than angry, drunken or cowardly, but by that point, if you’re still engaged, the film has you anyway. When the midsection of the film lags, you’re stuck with Chad, for better or worse and, for me, it wasn’t always for the better.
The film does achieve quite a bit of narrative depth overall, however, keeping you guessing as to what really went on downtown, and what the consequences of that event truly is. In its way, it reminded me of Signs but instead of making the bonehead move to reveal all with a sappy conclusion, the film instead keeps the mystery going somewhat, twisting the narrative in ways that are both foreshadowed but also retain a certain taste of the unexpected.
After seeing Desolate, I wouldn’t be surprised if members of the audience think, “I can do that!” and it inspires them to make a film themselves. I both applaud and caution, for the basic elements of this film are definitely something that anyone can (and they often do) try for themselves. However, what puts this truly on the side of quality is the filmmaking behind it. Many could film a small group of actors, or a single actor, in a singular location and call it a film, and again many do, but there is true craftsmanship to be found in this film. That takes time, experience, skill and even that nebulous talent to pull off, and not everyone, utilizing the same ideas and DIY ethos, will come out with the same result.
That said, to be a filmmaker you must make films, and this is a brilliant example that the stars don’t need to align perfectly for you to jump in the game and start making films yourself. So if Desolate inspires, in one way or another, by all means follow through. You might not make something as good as this, but you also might make something better.
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