Desolation follows a young mother, her son and her best friend as they go on a woodland hike after the passing of her husband. After a couple of days of soaking up the sights, they realize they aren't alone in these woods and the figure stalking them in the distance may have sinister intentions.
Desolation is a movie we missed while at Telluride Horror Showlast year, but it popped up on Netflix recently. It was a quick choice to watch, as I try to do that with any of the couple of movies we aren't able to catch at THS. THS has a great reputation for its diversity of film choices, tackling a plethora of horror sub-genres with varying degrees and types of horror and thriller films. In the case of Desolation, it falls more on the tamer side of horror.
The sunglasses-wearing villain stalking our hikers isn't particularly original. There's nothing special about most of this piece. It's the dynamic of the mother and son dealing with the loss of their husband/father and now a mad killer that draws most of the positive elements of the film. There are a couple of scenes that pull the viewer well because of the tension in this relationship, becoming a sort of macabre coming-of-age story that the son and mother must both cope with.
The film takes a long while to get out of first gear, and when it finally does, it never seems to switch beyond third. It settles into a groove of artificial tension, with the villain never posing much of a threat, even after he's made a few moves. I was never scared of him. He seems like a seasoned killer, but rather than perfecting his craft, he's simply gotten lazier in his approach, and it kills any momentum he builds up.
As mentioned before, this film is so mild, it sits on the border of horror/thriller, especially with merely one or two scenes removed or edited. That's not necessarily a fault or a failure, but is simply an observation on the film. Therefore it takes strong writing, acting and cinematography to carry it, and the film has trouble in these areas as well.
It feels like it has promise at times towards the beginning, but it never really culminates into decisive moments until perhaps the final act. Even then, there is this overhanging cloud of artificial tension that never feels real or engaging. It felt like it wanted to give more and couldn't quite get there. It's not all-for-not, it has substance, but it's not enough to balance the lack of horror in a auto-categorized horror film.