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Mysteries of the Desert (2023)

2023 SCREAMFEST REVIEW!


When Alice (Jennette Nelligan) happens upon a broken down car she is compelled to help the stranded individual. However, when she meets the distressed woman, Lula (Whitney Crowder), she comes to realize that an evil lurks, prepared to haunt them and hunt them. The Mysteries of the Desert are vast, and Alice may have bitten off more than she can chew.


I recently heard someone say that they often mistake sounds for voices–and for years I thought that I was the only one that suffered from this. Mysteries of the Desert is a horror film that plays with sound in order to tantalize and terrorize its viewers–and I often found myself hearing voices when they were, in fact, only sounds. I can’t really be sure how many others struggle with deciphering the difference between sounds and voices, but I’d imagine that this tactic was used intentionally when developing Mysteries of the Desert, and Writer-Director Adam Hardman does a stellar job of using sound to propel his film forward. There were times when I felt crippled by the sound, like I, much like Alice, was trying to navigate an unfamiliar terrain, an unfamiliar space.


The desert is a wide-open space with endless possibilities, so it’s incredibly interesting that Hardman forces the set to seem almost claustrophobic and congested. It’s made clear all of the open space that exists just outside of the shot, and that allows viewers a better opportunity to feel forced into one tiny space where it seems impossible to escape. The knowledge that more exists and the ability of Hardman to capture only a small amount of that at a time allows the intensity of Mysteries of the Desert to rise.


Mysteries of the Desert provides us with a ton of information, but never more than we need (although, sometimes we are given more than we can handle). These decisions are clearly deliberate, helping to develop a tone and strengthen the narrative.


Just like everything else, the score present in Mysteries of the Desert is incredibly deliberate, and its purpose is made clear in the opening moments of the film. The score lends itself to intensity, allowing the tone of the film to develop quickly and remain steadfast throughout the course of Mysteries of the Desert. What’s really interesting about the score is the fact that it follows Alice and becomes part of her character development. Now, let’s be clear, there isn’t a ton of character development (and there really doesn’t need to be), but the score helps viewers better understand the character and the situation of which she’s a part. As the score effectively engulfs Alice, viewers become more aware of her and her personality–essentially giving us a rooting preference and helping us to follow her throughout the film.


I’m truly impressed by what Hardman is able to accomplish in such a short amount of time, as he uses his surroundings to his advantage, strengthening the narrative and Mysteries of the Desert as a whole. It feels that every aspect of the film is done deliberately, and that just about everything is meant to allow viewers to better follow Alice and appreciate her journey throughout the film. The film is quick, yet it paces itself nicely–intensifying at the perfect rate throughout, and appealing to viewers every step of the way.


Written & Directed by Adam Hardman.


Starring Jennette Nelligan & Whitney Crowder.


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐½/10


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