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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Low Tide in the High Desert (2011)

Director: Stanley Ray
Stars: Chris Ranney and Steve Corona
This film was an official selection at the 9th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Sometimes just mentioning the location is enough to set the scene. This one's set in Roswell, NM. Now tell me what it's about? Well, you're not going to be far wrong, but Stanley Ray's script has a great deal of charm to it and it's cleverly written as a dialogue driven piece. Almost the entire film unfolds in the form of a conversation between a pair of cousins, Gary and Chuck, who are camped out by a lake. Gary is like a redneck who can reason, while Chuck is mildly retarded. They contrast strongly in almost every way, perhaps the best example suitably being in dialogue during an early exchange. 'You're so unprepared for life,' Gary tells Chuck, who pouts and replies. 'You're such an assface!' The most important difference for this picture is that Gary doesn't believe in UFOs at all, while Chuck believes in pretty much everything: Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Princess Leia's virginity, you name it. And from that, I'm sure you can tell just where this is going.
Shot in seven days with a mostly student-based crew, this is capably done. For an outdoor shoot, most of which took place at night, the lighting and sound are surprisingly good. When the effects show up, they're minimal but effective. The acting is precisely what it needs to be: Chris Ranney grounds the film superbly as Gary, while Steve Corona overplays Chuck with wild abandon. Chuck is the sort of character that Eddie Deezen would have played back in the eighties, outrageously nerdy and with a whole slew of social issues to suit every occasion. He's the sort of character who you'd hate to be around unless you have a nerdy streak yourself, in which case he would be your best friend forever. Well, until the inevitable argument about something completely meaningless culturally that turns you into mortal enemies. Ray plays in that pond a lot here, stirring up sacred cows in both the Star Trek and Star Wars universes as part of the same sentence.

The dialogue that handles this sort of thing is by far the best thing about this picture. Corona and especially Ranney bring it to life well, but it's the writing that stands out. Stanley Ray, who wrote and directed here, has six short films to his name; he wrote all of them and directed four. Based on what he does in this one alone, he has a knack of writing simply but effectively, not merely as the means of moving his story forward but also to build his characters and engage his audience at the same time. I wonder how many audience members at genre festivals talk to him afterwards, not to comment on his film but to debate him on one of the cultural points he riffed on in it. This isn't the most substantial sci-fi short you'll have ever seen and you certainly won't be surprised at how it turns out, but it's fun and engaging and it sits very well halfway through a set of generally serious short films. It'll definitely raise some chuckles.

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