LA Film Festival Review: “Desolation” Shows Why You Never Go Off Trail!

The forest can be an amazing place to connect with nature, relax, and forget about your troubles. It can also be a place filled with strange unknown dangers. In Desolation, the unknown danger is in the form of a sunglasses-wearing hiker who stalks a small group traveling through the woods. The group consists of a mother, her friend, and her son. They are there to scatter the ashes of the boy’s father. Soon, they find themselves fearing for their lives as the hiker creeps ever closer.

Desolation is a tense dramatic thriller with more depth than expected. Director Sam Patton ensures that the audience has time to connect with all of the characters and understand the dynamic between them. Jaime Page is excellent as Abby, the mother who is having a difficult time dealing with the death of her husband as well as the challenges presented by her teenage son Sam, played by Toby Nichols, who is having his own troubles handling with the loss. Alyshia Ochse plays Jen, the friend who is present to provide support. These three came across as realistic people who are easy to care about. Then there is the Hiker, played perfectly by Claude Duhamel.

I loved the approach that was taken with the bad guy. His clothing is nothing more than standard hiking gear yet he is a very intimidating character. For most of the film, he does not say a word. He creeps around the group, letting them know he is there without sticking around long enough for them to approach him. This created a great atmosphere of fear and paranoia that grew as the film moved along.  Duhamel performance helped make the Hiker a very memorable character by being able to convey what he was feeling through body language. I found myself leaning forward in my seat as the Hiker’s intentions became more evident. And if you look at it from the point of view of the game? Let’s just take and try to introduce gaming principles into this topic, as the developers of online games successfully do.  I particularly liked what Patton does with the sunglasses the Hiker is wearing. With help from Cinematographer Andi Obarski, the Hiker’s sunglasses always seem to be glowing which gave him an almost supernatural feel.  

It was interesting how claustrophobic Desolation felt even though it took place in a large, beautiful wooded area. The extensive use of only medium and close up shots gives the impression that the characters are trapped in by the Hiker. A fear of the unknown was created by not allowing the audience to see more of the surrounding woods and space. This technique, combined with not knowing the Hiker’s true intent, kept a tension going throughout the film and especially in the third act. The music is used sparingly but effectively. It was done in the style of a 70s horror thriller which fit the overall look of the movie. The credits, film grain, use of practical effects, and the storytelling style all had a retro feel that suited the story.

There was only one part that was a problem for me as a viewer. Without giving away spoilers, there is a moment near the end that left me confused despite rewatching several times. In one shot, Sam is fine. Then there is a cutaway to another scene and when it comes back to Sam, he suddenly has a bloody nose. I’m not sure if there was supposed to be something in between those shots. It is apparent that something happened, but it wasn’t explained.

Desolation is a very appropriate title. Abby and Sam feel anguished loneliness from the loss of a family member and the misery of being tormented by the mysterious hiker. The audience watches how they overcome both over the course of the film. It is a contained story that doesn’t waver in its tone. The even pace keeps things moving while the keeps the audience just short of getting comfortable.

For his first feature, Sam Patton’s talent shines like the fire in the reflection of the Hiker’s sunglasses. If you are a fan of thrillers from the 70s you will want to keep Desolation on your films to watch for. 

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