This Horror Month we’ve enjoyed the antics of witches, murderous mannequins, social media influencers, and…barefoot hill people? Our film this week is so ambiguous that I’m not particularly sure who the monsters are lurking in the mountains, but they do have knives and torches. No shoes, though.
Horror in the High Desert
A documentary-style film investigates the disappearance of an experience hiker with a supernatural twist.
After hiker and survivalist Gary doesn’t return from a hike in the Nevada wilderness, those closest to him are suspicious right away. His roommate Simon and sister Beverly agree that Gary wouldn’t choose to leave without a trace, particularly since it means leaving his dog alone with no one to take care of him.
Though Gary’s disappearance was (supposedly) a major story when it happened in 2017, his story has largely vanished from the public eye. In this fake documentary, several characters weigh in on what may have happened, from a reporter who broke the story to a park ranger, friends, and family.
As with any good possible murder, almost everyone has something to hide. While Beverly was close to her brother, she may have resented raising him after their parents’ early death. Is her disruption of the search for Gary related to her grief…or intentional misdirection?
Additional suspects include Simon, an unnamed mystery boyfriend(!), and Gary’s many followers on his secret but highly successful survival blog(!!!). After the search is finally called off following the gruesome discovery of Gary’s hand along with his belongings, the investigators discover additional evidence: 3 final videos Gary filmed. In the first video, Gary describes a shack he stumbled across but fled quickly when experiencing an overwhelming dread. With many of his blog followers disbelieving and even bullying Gary, was it his return to this chilling place that caused his demise?
2/5 Pink Panther Heads
Eh, this had potential but ultimately was a bit boring and anticlimactic in my opinion. This is quite clearly low budget, though some of the directing/acting choices may have elevated it. Additionally, there’s so much beautiful scenery around that is under-utilized. There are times this feels like an extended episode of alien docuseries on the History Channel, and it’s not a good look.
Likely what dooms the film is its determination to leave things ambiguous (and potentially leave room for a sequel) and refuse to answer a lot of questions. This is particularly a problem because many of these questions are raised in the final few minutes, so while we have a general idea of what happens to Gary, there’s not a lot of buildup around the mythology of who or what he encountered. I find the decision to leave the found footage until the end not particularly effective, as it could have been interspersed throughout to create more suspense. The found footage is genuinely unsettling, honestly.
It’s also extremely dissatisfying that Gary’s reason for returning to the site that filled him with dread is that…people online didn’t believe him? He legit could have come up with hard evidence that the Loch Ness monster exists and people on the internet would still think it’s a hoax. It’s difficult to believe that Gary would (a) think he could find enough evidence to convince people of his findings, or (b) only encounter trolls/cyber-bullying at this point when he’s had a successful blog for years.
As an aside, the repeated analysis of the bare footprints discovered along with Gary’s tracks is bizarrely hilarious to me. The characters spend A LOT of time discussing how chilling it is and speculating about why the person didn’t have shoes. And there are SO MANY shots of an unknown person walking without shoes in a rather Jesus-like robe. Maybe if we’d gotten some answers on this front it wouldn’t stick out in my mind as much, but we didn’t. And it does.