Under Californian Sun – review of „Desert Son”

We invite you to read the review of James Mann and Brandon Nicholas movie, „Desert Son”.

The Mojave Desert looks absolutely incredible in James Mann and Brandon Nicholas first collective work. It’s obvious that both guys worked hard on visual side of their movie. The landscape looks so beautiful and monumental, overwhelming and scary. Last time I had such impression  while watching Australian „Wolf Creek”. And regarding this aspect, „Desert Son” is not very far from the best traditions of „Walkabout”, which was the inspiration for the filmmakers (as they claim in our interview).

The story itself is interesting, but not that impressive when compared to the visuals. Here we have Philip, a teenager who dreams about tennis player career. He goes on a journey with his stepfather. The journey ends deep in the desert, where the boy is thrown out of the car. Without food or water Philip is on the verge of death of exhaustion. Fortunately he’s found by two mysterious orphans, Jack and Lucy. These two (especially Jack) present pretty interesting outlook – the word „antisocial” is far too delicate to describe it. They are the waste of society and they try to convince theirselves that they were exiled entirely of their own free will. Philip also changes in Jack and Lucy’s company.

It’s not though about mindless imitation of „cool” and free views of Jack. No, by all means. Philip perceives all the imperfections, weaknesess and kind of „detachment of reality”. His transformation relates to something else. In simplest words it’s about growing up, becoming a man (Jack laughs at that so much). From someone rather passive, someone who doesn’t take any responsibility for anything, Philip transforms into a person who can take matters into his hands. A person who can fight when things take a turn for the worse. From an obiedient lamb… well, maybe not to a lion, but to a young wolf for sure. Frankly speaking, anyone would change after associating with someone like Jack. He’s a sociopath, narcissist, he totally rejects any social and culture relations. The boy drowns in his own utopia deeper and deeper, and the appearance of Philip becomes a catalyst through which Jack carries some of his theories into effect.

Right in the middle between both guys, there is Lucy and a gentle feeling is born between her and Philip. All these circumstances, appearing of an intruder, Jack’s jealousy mixed with his, mildly speaking, not very popular outlook, lead to tragedy.

So why did I mention that the story isn’t that brilliant as the rest of „Desert Son”? Well, I think the story could be told in more… I don’t know… sophisticated way. I mean I don’t have anything against simple stories, simple stories can also be very touching. Well, it is touching, but for me still something’s missing. Maybe simply experience in storytelling, maybe just a tiny sparkle of virtuosity, maybe it’s all just about my feelings… Because generally the movie isn’t bad at all and all that I mentioned is the only thing I could pick hole in. The atmosphere is very suggestive. From time to time that raw lyricism like in van Sant’s movies is highly noticeable. Also the actors did really well (except one tiny detail, I think they put too much emphasis on swearing – but it’s not that important). The cinematography… I mentioned about that earlier. It’s very promising work, so I’m waiting for another movie of James and Brandon. And last, but not least, I hope someone will bring „Desert Son” to Poland, because it’s absolutely worth watching.

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