SXSW Review: The Desert


The Desert is a strange beast. A low-budget Argentinian zombie film where the main way money was saved was by having almost no zombies in the film at all. In fact the camera almost never leaves the house the three protagonists are living in. It is a zombie movie that eschews blood and horror for character and themes.

In a genre that is quickly becoming saturated a character study is the kind of out of the box film making we need to see to keep it fresh, and that makes what The Desert is trying to do incredibly interesting, but is the zombie genre ready to branch out?

The Desert
Director: Cristoph Behls
Rated: TBD
Release Date: TBD 

Director Christoph Behls film confronts many of the issues that traditional zombie films do: the breakdown of societal rules, the social implications of surviving, the extent people will go to survive, love. It does all this in a far more intimate and confrontational way, however. Instead of skimming over issues like sexuality that most zombie flicks ignore it dives head long into it without so much as a blink, confronting these issues in stark and unrelenting ways as the group’s dynamic slowly breaks down.

That group is two men, Axel (Lautaro Delgado) and Jonathan (William Prociuk), and a woman, Ana (Victoria Almedia). We’re thrust into their world, which consists of a run down 1-bedroom apartment, well into the zombie apocalypse eventually discovering that Jonathan and Ana are in a relationship while Axel is stuck lusting after her. The driving conflict does not come from the zombies, but from Axel and Ana’s love/hate relationship as they find themselves more attracted to each other despite Ana being with Jonathan. Jonathan meanwhile has no issues sharing Ana, but the trio clings to societal relationship norms despite the lack of society, setting up a series of rules based on the games they play.

The back story unfolds mostly through the three recording themselves in video diaries, a pretty old trick being used more and more often, but the performances are so sincere that it works incredibly well in the film. This is especially true once Axel and Ana begin to flirt with each other through their videos, watching each others and then replying. The two are able to connect through this removed method while entirely unable to sustain a relationship in the real world. It adds a very interesting extra layer to the film’s social commentary about how we currently connect with other people. The strong performances coupled with these incredibly close studies of the characters make for a film that can definitely get intense as well as interesting.

The film does have its flaws, especially the treatment of Ana’s self worth being almost completely dependent on the two men’s gaze upon her. While the film may be making a statement about the overt sexuality that would obviously arise in this situation Ana as a character is often relegated to simply her sex and the film’s conclusion seems to establish that her meaning in life is dependent on the opinion of the men. This could actually be psychologically true were the situation to occur as Ana would feel great regard for the two men who rescued her, but the incredibly obvious sexualizing of her can often make her feel like less of a character and more of a plot device.

At other times the movie begins to drag a bit as it gets lost in itself. These characters are incredibly interesting as well as the themes they’re exploring, but many times the point is delivered and then dragged out too long. The tension gets lost as the message is hammered home. The movie can simply be very heavy handed at points leading to a few missed opportunities to be as good as it could be.

The Desert is trying, which is something you can’t say for a lot of films in the genre. There’s something different about its approach and its goals and its stark look at the sexuality and violence of the situation. While it may not always work as well as it wants to it still gives us a refreshing take on a genre that sorely needs them.

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.