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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 04.22.10] movie review thriller drama

Year: 2009
Directors: James Mann/Brandon Nicholas
Writers: James Mann
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Desert Son is a stylishly filmed, angsty coming-of-ager that feels a lot like Larry Clark riffing on the wilderness survival genre. That is to say it is a haunting look into the dark side of aimless adolescence that pulls no punches when examining how messed-up kids can be when drunk on a potent cocktail of confusion, raging hormones and ego. And with an odd little family / love triangle at its core, Desert Son even manages to ruminate on how the dysfunction we're brought up with becomes the baggage we carry around with us forever. Like the battered old suitcase Philip carries with him throughout the film, our past is an extension of who we are and contains all the bits and pieces that make up what we will become.

In fact, writer James Mann weaves a harsh message through Desert Son that is bleak, literate and perfectly clear. The ideal image of the nuclear family is dead. Dysfunction is inescapable in modern America. You carve your own path through life. Essentially, you're on your own.

For 15-year old Philip, a regular kid on his way to tennis camp, that message becomes crystal clear. Abandoned on a desert roadside by his drunk, abusive stepfather, he must fend for himself under the hot sun. It's not long before he's lying half dead among the skeletal remains of an abandoned mining town. Luckily, he is resurrected by Lucy and Jack, two runaways who've carved out of a life of simple subsistence for themselves in the desert. The three quickly form a ramshackle family unit, creeping into suburban homes together, thieving and playing house. Of course you can just tell they're doomed to fall apart as quickly as they came together, because Jack is essentially a younger version of the same insecure, and pissed off father that left Philip on the roadside in the first place. But, this time, with life and love at stake, Philip is not so willing to take his shit lying down.

It's tempting to compare Desert Son to Dust, Max Jacoby's similarly themed arthouse parable about three kids living together after some sort of apocalypse. However, where DUST revels in the quiet elegance of Britain's pastoral landscape, James Mann throws his characters into the harshest possible setting and gives them personalities that are anything but quiet.

Jack is your typical teenage know-it-all, desperate to let the world know he sees through it all and knows just how to manipulate the system to get what he wants. He rationalizes the crime as not hurting the rich and at every opportunity he's blatantly manipulative and mean to Philip. For instance, no sooner than he takes the younger boy under his wing does he kick him to the curb and tell him to leave forever. Played by talented newcomer Nathan Halliday (who won "Best Supporting Actor" for the role at the 2010 Method Fest Film Festival), Jack is a dark, self-destructive soul that is up there with some of the best tragic characters. Rounding out the cast is TV actor, John Bain, who's Philip is believably naive and idealistic about the situation he's thrust into, and Erica Curtis who plays Lucy - the girl who, like all women probably do, must contend with being a mother and sexual object to the two juvenile boys.

Desert Son manages to skirt the usual genre trappings to become something bold and unique. It expertly balances being a drama about dislocated youth on one hand and a volatile thriller on the other. The film masterfully builds tension in such a way that you're never quite sure when it'll blow, but you know it will. I greatly look forward to whatever James Mann and Brandon Nicholas come up with next and with any luck it'll find its way onto your television screens in one form or another soon.

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David Banner (11 years ago) Reply

"7.2" / 10?? How does your rating system work? :)


Hot Fuzz (11 years ago) Reply

7.2 seems like a high rating. I mean, reviews don't have to dwell on problems to justify NOT giving something a perfect score.

I will check this out.


David Banner (11 years ago) Reply

When I wrote "7.2" / 10, I meant the "0.2", how do you figure out the "0.2" ?


agentorange (11 years ago) Reply

Regarding the rating: That was actually a typo. I meant to type 7.5. It's fixed now.

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