Two years ago indie filmmaker Dutch Marich releases his micro-budged found-footage horror movie, Horror in the High Desert. Though it didn’t see much of a release, this mix of found-footage and true crime documentary became something of a hidden gem. And Marich teased a sequel at the end of his faux-documentary that might tie loose ends. Now Horror in the High Desert 2 Minerva has arrived and is available to rent on a handful of VOD platforms. At present, there isn’t much buzz, but a handful of reviews are touting Minerva as a worthy follow-up.
Following her investigation of Gary Hinge’s mysterious disappearance in the high desert of Nevada, journalist Gal Roberts looks into two additional recent disappearances. Geology student Minerva ‘Minnie’ Sound arrived in Nevada for a practicum program. But a booking error means the student residences are full. Instead, Minnie ends up in a tiny trailer rental on the outskirts of the desert. Almost immediately upon her arrival, Minnie complains of mysterious sounds and strange physical ailments before disappearing. In another case, single mother Ameliana’s car breaks down on the side of the road – she manages one phone call to her mother before she goes missing. Using recovered footage from phones and cameras, Roberts attempts to piece together and connect the two cases.
Horror in the High Desert 2 Minerva an Immediately Tense Viewing Experience
Once again writer and director Dutch Marich merges traditional found-footage with a true crime narrative to give the sequel that faux documentary vibe. It’s a natural evolution of the found-footage subgenre, used in prior movies like The Poughkeepsie Tapes, that exploits our growing fascination with true crime. And it also allows Marich to mostly avoid the usual trappings of found-footage. That is, there’s a sound narrative rationale for why the footage has been assembled and for cinematic touches like a musical score. Of course, there’s still a few scenes that raise questions about why someone would keep filming in ‘life or death’ death situations. But these are minor issues with a sequel that improves on its concept in just about every way.
Marich establishes an uncomfortable atmosphere in the first frames and rarely lets up.
Rather than holding back on the horror elements, Horror in the High Desert 2 Minerva immediately embraces the genre and slow burns. Marich establishes an uncomfortable atmosphere in the first frames and rarely lets up. In the absence of quick edits and jump scares, Marich relies on long steady shots that force audiences to carefully scan the screen. Just the anticipation itself often creates enough discomfort to ensure you’ll leave the lights on once the movie ends. In particular, Marich’s sound design in the sequel is a standout feature that not only adds to the atmosphere but also contributes to the expansion of High Desert’s mythology.
Horror in the High Desert 2 Minerva Overcomes an Anti-Climatic Finale
And it’s the mythology that grows in Horror in the High Desert 2 Minerva. Though Marich namedrops the first movie’s protagonist, Gary Hinge, the sequel focuses on two wholly different characters. In addition, Marich extends the lore beyond a ‘deformed local’ to deepen the mystery. Through sound, voiceover ‘journalism’, and blurred imagery, Minerva introduces potential supernatural elements. Suddenly the sequel’s world feels almost as big as the desert in which it’s set. On one hand, the expanded lore serves to engage the audience into an ever deepening mystery. However, Marich’s decision to leave questions unanswered in favour of a tease for the sequel originally promised at the end of the first movie frustrates. Like Horror in High Desert, the sequel’s finale feels very anti-climatic.
…Marich’s decision to leave questions unanswered in favour of a tease for the sequel originally promised at the end of the first movie frustrates.
Nevertheless, it’s a minor quibble to take with a movie that works so well. Marich fully exploits the mix of found-footage and faux documentary to place audiences into never-rattling moments. Arguably, Horror in the High Desert 2 Minerva creates not one, but two, of the scariest extended sequences in recent memory. And for all the talk about experimental horror like Skinamarink and The Outwaters, Marich accomplishes these uncomfortable moments through simple approaches. He places viewers in moments where they know something is very wrong but offers no escape or outlet to quickly dispel your tension.
Horror in the High Desert 2 Minerva One of the Year’s Scariest Movies So Far
In almost every way, Horror in the High Desert 2 Minerva improves on the first movie aside from its conclusion. While Horror in the High Desert took its time weaving horror elements into its true crime format, Minerva doesn’t so much slow burn as it immediately immerses you into a consistently creepy narrative. Marich adopts a more quietly relentless approach in his sequel. Expect at least two unbearably tense sequences amidst the unsettling atmosphere. Once again Marich opts for an almost ‘non-ending’ of a finale. Moreover, Minerva isn’t the sequel promised – an add-on teases that sequel. But this doesn’t change the impact of the movie – it’s easily one of the year’s scariest new genre entries.