Director Sam Patton’s debut feature “Desolation” takes a quietly existential approach to the “killer in the woods” story — an idea that’s honorable in intent, but dreary in execution. At times Patton and screenwriters Matt Anderson and Michael Larson-Kangas seem to be using arty reserve as a cover for their lack of story and action.
“Desolation” gets off to a good start, with cinematographer Andi Obarski setting up handsome-looking shots of three amiable hikers ambling up a mountain. When the trio reach their destination, we learn more about who they are. Recent widow Abby (Jaimi Paige), her adolescent son Sam (Toby Nichols), and her best friend, Jen (Alyshia Ochse), are trekking through the wilderness to honor the memory of Abby’s husband.
Not long after they set up camp, the party notices that some items from their kit are missing. Later, they see a silent, menacing figure in a hoodie and sunglasses, tracking them through the forest.
“Desolation” has the basic framework for effective low-budget horror. The characters are multidimensional, the cast and crew have talent, and the situation’s inherently nerve-racking.
But the film never kicks into gear. Abby, Sam and Jen talk a lot about their lingering emotional pain, and then a maniac stalks them for a while, and the credits roll, without anything memorably frightening happening. Movies like these — so well-intentioned, so unexciting — give the very notion of “a brainy thriller” a bad rep.
Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood