First Look Review - Desolation

Thriller focusing on the aftermath of a bungled heist.

Directed by: Ryan Fox
Starring: Nick Naro, Owen McCuen, Kyle Steele, Nate Armbuster, Josh McSparin



Following a botched heist, a group of ragtag amateur cons bicker en route to their isolated rendezvous, sirens filling the air. As they squabble over who fouled the job, and who really deserves the ill-gotten gains, we discern the group dynamics: one of the gang is ruthless (Saul, played by Kyle Steel), another is pensive, and it is increasingly possible that one of their number has tipped off the cops. Familial relations factor, and loyalties are tested, as Desolation depicts the vicious aftermath of a robbery gone bad.
Sound familiar?
A final clue: as they reach their meeting point, the action is captured from a low angle camera shot, taken from inside the getaway car’s trunk…
Yes, Desolation is steeped in Tarantino’s influence, smitten with the Grindhouse guru, in fact (at one point, there’seven a laconic disc jockey announcing pop hits from a radio!). To be fair, Reservoir Dogs also had had its narrative roots in other films (The Killing and City on Fire), and there is something pleasingly congruous about heist movies stealing from each other. Thus, Desolation smash grabs the bungled heist conceit of Reservoir Dogs and runs with it; we follow Nick (Naro) and Josh (McSparin) along the film’s nonlinear structure (a bit like Pulp Fiction…), discovering, in a series of interspersed flashbacks, why the two leads are caught up in the mess, and what happens to them as a result of it; lost in the forest, avoiding the fraudulent Saul, trying to get their dues. As in its predecessor, we never see the pivotal bank robbery; this film is more concerned with the aftermath and the misguided decisions that led up to it. This latter aspect of Desolation is fascinating, and where the film really comes into its own. Seeing how Nick and Josh, two ordinary guys, arrived at their pathetic lot (‘out in the woods with a bunch of inbred hillbillies’), witnessing the mistakes that they made to get there, is intriguingly played out. There is commentary on the current economic crisis (one of the leads is forced into the job as his wife is pregnant) that is relatable, and a plausible sense of things slowly, inexorably getting out of hand.
The rest of Desolation’s story takes place in the uncertain shadows of the woods, as Nick and Josh unwittingly become part of a complex triple cross, involving the original boss of the job and an opportunistic party of hillbillies. Mistrust is piled upon suspicion, and there is a sort of inventive glee to the twists and turns as the movie hits its stride. Steve Blazosky is suitably menacing and wholly entertaining as a sunglassed Brutus, yet a couple of comedy hillbillies are slightly ill judged (‘Dey got munney! Munney we can yuse!’), coming off like Cletus Spuckler’s less subtle descendants. The performances are generally okay though, with one scene close to the end, involving a confessional phone call, standing out for its dextrous rhythm and atmospheric intent.
There are interesting ideas within Desolation… the problem is, most of them are taken from another film: and sadly, Desolation does little to live up to its Tarantino aspirations. The final act predictably leads up to a Mexican stand-off, but there is also a surprise in the denouement: where we discover who actually survives, what they do to carry on, and (in a final twist), how the past eventually catches up with them. This nuanced ending, a couple of brutal shocks throughout and the central narrative pull of old friends foolishly convincing themselves that a bank job would be a workable solution to their ills, is just enough to make Desolation a crime drama to recommend to fans of the genre.
5/10
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