Our issues with ‘found-footage’ horror have been well-documented over the years on this website but if there is one style that we have enjoyed, it’s when these movies go for the ‘mockumentary’ angle.
Films likes We Are the Missing and Savageland were delightful horrors that captured the sense of realism that ‘found-footage’ was once lauded for. The combination of footage, interviews, telephone calls, internet history, news bulletins and characters piecing a mystery together, can result in something that feels like a documentary.
That is what Horror in the High Desert nails. The wonderful combination of artistic licencing that you get with a documentary and enigmatic true-crime horror.
From writer/director Dutch Marich, Horror in the High Desert is all about the search for Gary Hinge (Eric Mencis). A young man who likes going off the grid for days on end with few supplies, all so he can share his experience with his blog followers. His latest excursion has seemingly resulted in disaster though as he has not come back and no-one knows where he is.
Gary’s story and the deepening mystery surrounding his fate comes via his sister Beverly (Tonya Williams Ogden), roommate Simon (Errol Porter) and local radio station reporter Gal Roberts (Suziey Block). Through them, we find out about the kind of person Gary was and how unnatural this disappearance is. Not only that, we also find out details that could suggest several characters know more than they are letting on.
Of course, while this might be interesting in a fully-fledged documentary, Horror in the High Desert is a movie and needs to deliver more. The shift comes with the introduction of private detective Bill Salerno (David Morales) who is hired by Beverley when Gary’s truck is found.
From this point onwards, things get darker and things get more unsettling. Not just with Gary’s story but the lengths Bill will reach to get answers and how cyberbullying has played a major part in this disappearance. Heavy subject matters are dragged into the light, yet in a natural way as the viewer falls down the rabbit hole with the characters.
As the movie reaches its conclusion, it’s easy to believe that the film isn’t going to give you the answers. That Gary’s disappearance will never be solved and that the true horror is never knowing. There’s an argument that such an ambiguous ending would have been a smarter choice but that’s not what happens. Not every question is answered but the big ones are certainly covered. How that sits with you will depend upon your taste, especially as the finale enters fully-fledged found-footage mode.
Personally, it’s the drop-off point that left a slightly sour taste in the mouth. Not enough to ruin the meal, even if there are the odd missteps throughout too, but notable.
That being said, it’s impressive just how real Horror in the High Desert feels. At times, it is easy to forget that you’re even watching a horror movie and not a true-crime documentary.
Horror in the High Desert (2021)
The Final Score - 7/10