Horror in the High Desert recently made its debut on Tubi after a short festival run. It’s a film that fans of found footage and faux doc style horror films will not want to miss.
The film’s official synopsis reads:
In July 2017, an experienced outdoor enthusiast vanished in Northern Nevada while on an outdoor excursion. After an extensive search, he was never located. On the three-year anniversary of his disappearance, friends and loved ones recall the events leading up to his vanishing, and for the first time, speak about the horrifying conclusion of his fate.
Writer/director Dutch Marich was featured in our Horror Pride series last year during the month of June. The series honors the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community to the horror genre. In that interview, he had this to say:
“There’s two things that I love in horror. One is the fear of the unknown which to me is just the best. It’s hard to top that sort of unsolved mysteries thing. I love the things that push your brain to work. The second would have to be a straight up, visceral human monster, slasher, or serial killer.”
Horror in the High Desert blends these two things together beautifully. In fact, I would say the film is the promise Marich made to his viewers when he first began making films fulfilled.
In order for a faux documentary to really work, you have to be able to believe the people on screen are not actors at all. You have to lose yourself in the illusion that they are reporters, concerned siblings, police officers, etc. It’s the tripping point for most who attempt the style. Someone’s performance is almost always too much of a performance to sell the film’s reality.
Fortunately for us, Marich excels at this, and though I cannot be entirely sure, I think its largely down to his not hiring “actors” for his films. They are, almost always, a family affair. I can hear some of you groaning when I say this, but what I have to add is that Marich seems to have a particularly talented family who is natural on camera.
Take, for instance, Tonya Williams Ogden. In the film she plays Beverly Hinge, sister to the film’s missing protagonist who we only see in recovered footage. In real life, she’s Marich’s cousin. Now, I’ve seen a lot of low-budget films where the filmmaker employs their family to fill out the cast and it…doesn’t work out so well. The exact opposite happens here.
I don’t remember the last time I saw someone look this natural on camera or who, so adeptly, became the heart of a film. There wasn’t a hint of acting to what she was doing. She was simply a sister who desperately wanted to know what happened to her brother, and she breaks the viewer’s heart more than once during the film.
Likewise, Marich’s husband, David Morales, rises to the occasion as private investigator William “Bill” Salerno, again, giving an understated performance that underlines the “reality” of the film.
There is a moment in every found footage film where reality takes a turn to the terrifying. That moment exists in Horror in the High Desert, but it doesn’t come with a big punch the way it often does in similar films. Instead, Marich carefully crafts a story that becomes more unsettling by the moment. He chooses dread over jump scares and character over inflated plot.
Does this make certain sections of the film seem longer than they actually are? Yes, and the pacing of the film is the only real issue I have. There are times where the stories and anecdotes are perhaps a minute or two longer than they necessarily need to be, but the film never grinds to a complete halt.
What’s more when Gary’s final video from his adventures in the desert is revealed, the terror is all the more palpable because the director took the time to really flesh out the character so that we feel like we know him. Viewers feel for this young man who was cyberbullied into returning to a location that he did not want to see again, and what follows is all the more effective because of it.
Further, Marich answers just enough questions to feel satisfying while leaving a few more open for a sequel, which, has already been promised.
You can see Horror in the High Desert for free on Tubi. Check out the film’s trailer below!