Maybe found-footage movies aren’t quite as in vogue as the early 2010s. But that’s not to say the format doesn’t still work when used right. After all, Host was one of the best movies of a truncated 2020 horror movie schedule. Both Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin and V/H/S 94 delivered decent scares in 2021. Somewhere below the radar, faux-documentary Horror in the High Desert popped up on Tubi at some point in 2021 as well. Not even Rotten Tomatoes has any reviews complied on this one. Thankfully, a Bloody Disgusting article on recent hidden gems gave this one a deserved mention.
Three years ago outdoors and survival enthusiast Gary Hinge went missing in the Nevada desert. Despite a massive months-long police search, no sign of Gary was ever turned up. Now a documentary crew has caught up with family and friends in hopes of digging up any new leads. As shocking new evidence emerges, Gary’s final moments – from his own camera footage – reveal a shocking conclusion.
Horror in the High Desert Breathes New Life into Found-Footage Format
In Horror in the High Desert writer and director Dustin Marich marries two genres in what’s an extremely effective use of the found footage format. Take a look at Netflix’s offerings on any given day and you’ll see ample proof of the popularity of true crime infotainment. What Marich does here is bring together a true crime lens to horror using a mix of faux-documentary and found-footage. It’s a near perfect mix that exploits exactly the story-telling format of true crime documentaries in a way that compliments the final act’s horror elements. At a lean 82 minutes, Horror in the High Desert still stretches its faux-documentary story. But Marich’s carefully constructed reveals – tied to its documentary approach – keep you invested.
It’s a near perfect mix that exploits the story-telling format of true crime documentaries in a way that compliments the final act’s horror elements.
Of course, everything hinges on those last 15 minutes or so. Like a true found-footage horror movie, Horror in the High Desert is a slow-burn that puts most of its eggs in its climax. If Marich takes a bit much too time to ratchet up his thriller’s tension, he certainly makes up for it. Once Horror in the High Desert hits its endgame, Marich demonstrates an apt hand for for pushing audiences to the end of their seat. It’s all simply done and a testament to how well the format still works. Nothing here re-works what we expect from the format. But Marich creates buckets of tension and unease in what’s one of the better horror finales in recent memory.
Amidst a Tense Final Horror in the High Desert Dips Into a Familiar Well
With so much invested in its climax, Horror in the High Desert begs one question – does the reveal meet the expectations it sets? The short answer – not really. But that’s a bit of an unfair assessment. Marich does such a good job squeezing out suspense as he exploits the setting, lighting, and handheld camera style. And Marich’s approach to storytelling drops small reveals in such a way to increasingly build anticipation for the ultimate reveal. Arguably, Horror in High Desert had a high hurdle to clear. So it’s not all that surprising that the reveal disappoints slightly even if the climax largely satisfies.
,,.it’s hard to argue that the movie’s final turn of events doesn’t underwhelm.
Without spoiling specifics regarding the climax, Horror in the High Desert raises a lot of possible outcomes for its missing person. Ultimately, Marich gives us a pretty generic ‘lost in the wilderness’ narrative with a bit of The Hills Have Eyes thrown in for good measure. While it’s true that nothing was likely to meet the expectation built up over the previous 60 minutes, it’s hard to argue that the movie’s final turn of events doesn’t underwhelm. A different approach to a very familiar narrative can only so much for audiences. Still Marich’s tease for a a sequel almost makes up for it. Just because the ending is familiar doesn’t mean it fails to satisfy.
Horror in the High Desert Finds Life in Found Footage
Apparently there’s still some life left in the found-footage format when executed properly. Like most found-footage movies, Horror in the High Desert can’t completely avoid a recurring problem – why someone would continue to film while their life was in danger. And the gripping tension in those last 10 to 15 minutes can’t completely hide the shortfall of the movie’s big reveal. But there’s no denying that Marich puts his faux-documentary approach to good use. The result is a thriller that intrigues until it decides to put you on the edge of your seat.