(director/writer: Barnaby Clay; cinematographer: Robert Leitzell; music: Tristan Bechet; cast: Scott Haze (Wyndham Stone), Kate Lynn Sheil (Alina), Alex Montaldo (Corvus), Thatcher Jacobs (Lepus), Harrison Middleton (Crux), Michael Monseur (Arvo); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Brian R. & Josh H. Etting; XYZ Films/Magnet Releasing; 2023)

“A claustrophobic survival horror-thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A claustrophobic survival horror-thriller, bleakly told with sparse dialogue and some very real nightmarish scares. It takes the form of a fable, as it’s sharply directed and written by Barnaby Clay in his feature film debut.
A hiker, Wyndham Stone (Scott Haze), is alone in the Utah desert, who has a backpack and a camera. He has come here to photograph a solar eclipse, when he meets a little boy who is alone in the desert and appears lost. Stone tries to help him, but the child only makes primitive sounds.

Still trying to help, Stone is led by the child to a hidden spot behind the rocks, where he finds a rope ladder to go down a deep chasm in a canyon. But the ladder is pulled away and he’s trapped in the crater and can’t climb the steep wall to the top to escape. Spending the rainy night in the crater, he’s scared to death.

The child returns later with a few older boys, around 12, who stare down at him as if he were a creature. They look at the frightened man as their captive–jeering at him.

Distracted by someone singing, he finds a lady named Alina (Kate Lynn Sheil) who lives in the crater in a cottage. She befriends him, offering him food, warm clothes and a couch to sleep in.

Stone tries escaping, but fails. Alina tells him in an unintelligible voice that he’s now one of the crater people.

It plays out as a haunting horror story, with him not sure if this crazy lady isn’t also a prisoner of the feral boys and if his situation isn’t so hopeless that he’ll never escape.

If you ask me, the moral of this hokey tale is to never hike in the desert alone.

What Clay does well is set an eerie atmosphere. But what he doesn’t do that well is tell a story that is fulfilling.

The unsettling narrative cleverly uses the phases of the moon to keep track of its chapters.

It played at the Tribeca Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 1/17/2024  GRADE: B-