Desolate, co-written and directed by Frederick Cipoletti, is the rare film with a generic title that actually works, as this action-drama is just as bleak and empty as its name would suggest. The movie, following a young man who must survive and seek revenge in the worst drought in history when he is left for dead by his two brothers, is perhaps one of the most rambling movies you will see all year.
The core story shows a surprising amount of potential, hence why the end result is so thoroughly disappointing. With a bit more expansion of the mythology, the film easily could have been a lower-budget, more personal version of Mad Max. Instead, we are left in an awkward in-between where the movie is too out there to feel realistic but a tad too grounded to be post-apocalyptic.
The film’s pacing is also a significant issue. Movies like this are best when they are given a simple set-up and prolonged suspenseful conflict. Desolate delivers the exact opposite: an extremely overlong set-up and short conflict with minimum suspense. It takes almost half of the runtime for the main plot to kick in, which is a clear indicator of how inept this script is at keeping the audience entertained.
Additionally, the themes which the film addresses are nothing new, being some of the most common messages associated with the revenge genre. The movie’s main point seems to be about loyalty, which would have been fine if the filmmakers had anything unique or insightful to say about that topic. As a result, the film feels like little more than an exercise in style-over-substance.
Also equally shallow are the characters. Perhaps the single biggest issue with the movie is that it is so bleak, and as such, all of the characters have an extremely cynical outlook on life. Even if you are cynical yourself, it becomes hard to relate to the characters because of their extreme resentment towards others and the world in general.
The actors don’t do a bad job, but that is because they aren’t given much to do. The dialogue is straightforward and there is very little emotion in the script, so the film didn’t require a particularly large range from its cast. Will Brittain, who plays the protagonist, gives what is likely the most memorable performance, if only because he has the largest amount of screen time.
On a technical level, the movie is somewhat impressive, further contributing to the disappointment that the film is not better than it is. The visual style is appealing in many ways, making you wish that there had been more substance in the script. Cipoletti shows that he has talent and an eye behind the camera, so perhaps he would be better off directing a script written by someone else.
Desolate is one of those movies that is so aggressively bland that it becomes hard to watch. Although nothing about the film is particularly bad, the general air of mediocrity that surrounds it ultimately leads it to failure.
Desolate hits theaters and VOD on July 12.