Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fantasia ’14: The Desert

If zombies have not completely jumped the shark for you after the spectacle of the unruly San Diego zombie walk, than this might be the right film to regroup with. Yes, the zombie apocalypse has fallen, but three survivors largely tune out the shuffling hordes for long stretches of time in Christoph Behl’s The Desert (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Axel, Ana, and Jonathan have banded together, sharing a strangely intimate post-zombie rising in a reinforced ranch-style house. Axel yearns for Ana, but she has romantically paired-off with the better looking but far less sensitive Jonathan. To serve as an emotional outlet, Ana set up a confession cam in their backroom, where she often records her innermost thoughts. That is not really Jonathan’s scene, but Axel often visits to secretly view the videos Ana deposits in the supposedly sealed trunk. As Axel’s jealousy mounts, Ana increasingly misinterprets his moodiness as hostility, deliberately antagonizing him in turn.

Into this awkward mix, Jonathan brings Pythagoras, a feral zombie he chains up in the workroom to help facilitate some unfinished business from an extremely uncomfortable game of Truth or Dare. Even during Armageddon, three is a crowd. However, four is particularly unstable when the fourth is a zombie.

Without question, Sabu’s Miss Zombie is the new modern zombie classic of the last ten years or so. Desert never reaches its heights of pathos, but there is something distinctly unsettling about its fatalistic portrayal of humanity. If ever there was a time to rise up personal resentments, this would be it. Yet, the stress of the apparently world-shattering crisis only amplifies their angst and recriminations. Behl never shows us the anarchy unfolding outside their house-that-is-not-a-home, but the confusing sounds are often more alarming than the half-baked visual effects of z-grade zombie grind-em-outs.

As the compulsively tattooed Axel, Lautaro Delgado puts on an acting clinic. It is eerie how eloquently his body language reflects his inner emotional turmoil. In contrast, Ana’s erratic character is much harder to get a handle on, but Victoria Almeida valiantly labors to sell each shift of her psyche. However, William Prociuk bears watching as Jonathan, the ostensibly boorish engineer.

At times, The Desert is too existential for its own good. Nevertheless, Behl successfully reinvents the zombie film as a four character-one set (for all intents and purposes) relationship drama, which is a neat trick. An ambitiously subtle zombie outing that works rather well on balance, The Desert is recommended for adventurous genre fans when it screens again next Tuesday (8/5) as part of this year’s Fantasia.