All the motifs were there
for something really promising here, but....
And now for something completely different! Yes, I’m taking a break from the murky waters of Film Gutter to venture into a more traditional thriller. Death in the Desert certainly interested me as a movie, with the classic setting of Las Vegas combined with a dark love triangle and some fine acting talent, all based on the book by Cathy Scott. The trailer itself looked good too, good enough for me to take a departure from my usual fare here at Ginger Nuts of Horror.
So, was the change of scene worth it? I want to say yes, I really do. All the motifs were there for something really promising here, but the end result was also very disappointing.
The movie follows Ray Easler (Michael Madsen), a wealthy 50-something casino in Vegas. He’s cynical, hard-drinking and a fairly heavy drugs user as well. Much of his fortune was inherited from his father, whom he seems to have a borderline obsession with – the number of times he’s mentioned in proceedings is pretty notable. One night at a strip club, Easler meets Kim Davis (Shayla Beesley) who has just arrived in Vegas. Honestly, I can’t even tell you why she’s there – I just kind of assumed it was to pursue some kind of fame. Anyway, Easler is immediately struck with her and the relationship central to the story gradually blossoms. Ray and Kim are eventually living together when Ray perversely hires a young man who Kim clearly has a liking for to help him bury a host of silver coins in the desert (I can’t honestly say that made sense to me at all). As Kim and Ray’s relationship degenerates, Kim’s affair with Matt grows and becomes both sexual and emotional.
Even on that, it doesn’t sound too bad. But there are a whole host of issues, so many that I barely know where to begin. First of all, there’s Madsen’s grating narration, which seems to barely cease and becomes a source of constant irritation. It seems to be going for some kind of Zen philosophy, but just descends into rambling gibberish. There’s also the fact there’s not a single character to like here – I don’t mind edgy antiheroes, but there was simply no one here to be interested in or care about. Easler is a deeply unpleasant character who seems to have no idea how to crack a smile, and doesn’t seem to do a moment’s work despite evidently running a vast empire. Kim is a character who is totally disinteresting from the get-go, and slips into the classic trophy wife role all too willingly. There’s no motivation for her to get with Ray in the first place that I can detect apart from the fact he has a lot of money. Even her new beau Matt is practically a cardboard cut-out of a character that we don’t come to know the first thing about. By the time I was 25 minutes in I’d stopped caring, and there was nothing much in the last hour to revive my interest. Because that’s the other thing – so little actually happens in this movie. The narration definitely begins to feel like padding over pretty shots of Vegas because basically it’s just rich guy meets stripper, relationship begins, stripper falls for other guy. That’s kind of it – even the finale, in which I was expecting some kind of drama, delivered next to nothing.
So ultimately, Death in the Desert was a bitter letdown. On reflection I realised part of the reason I took this film on for a review – I’ve always loved Leaving Las Vegas, which is well up among my favourite movies, and there were echoes of that in the trailer. Unfortunately this one just played like a horribly sub-standard version of that far better movie. If you took the emotion and the connection with the characters out of LLV, this is about what you’d end up with. Despite its short running time, this one really dragged. In the end I can only give this one a pretty poor rating, so it’s a 2/10 from me.
MAN IS THE TRUE MONSTER