AT YOUR OWN RISK: A study in surviving the desert & looking flawless at the same time
I love the concept of this film, and with such a small budget (less than $1,000) it was no mean feat pulling it off! This film was made with pretty much a four person crew trekking round the New Mexico desert for 12 days straight. I love the choice of location and I think it really works, it’s so beautiful yet foreboding at the same time- like the game.
I loved the diversity, too. For two women to take up pretty much 95% of the screen time is a figure I’ve only dreamed of. Not only is this film female helmed, but it also includes an Asian-American female co-star, Helena Santos. I loved both Helena Santos’ and Alexandra Boylan’s performances and felt their chemistry together really worked to create a convincing strained relationship whilst still loving each other like sisters.
The film is based around two strong female leads who run a PR company who decide to test a geocaching game for a big company, with the agreement of working together in the future. I really liked the dedication of keeping the film limited to only a handful of characters and not allowing it to get boring.
I struggled slightly with the look of the two women in the desert. They were not allowed to take extras with them, so how did they both manage to keep their make-up and hair looking like they had a makeup artist with them the whole time? And why didn’t they have sweat patches? Don’t get me wrong, the women looked fabulous throughout the film, but I didn’t watch it to see two pretty women. I watched it to see them struggle through the desert.
I could tell straight away that Taylor was a typical “rich girl” just from how she dressed –– but how could Angie be friends with her all these years and still not know? It seems a trivial thing for them to fall out over in retrospect but in the moment, after days and days in the desert, I totally get it.
I’m just so thankful they didn’t fall out over a man. I might have had to just switch it off!
I liked the simplicity of how the suggested they were being followed. With Jaws-like shots making you feel slightly uneasy from behind bushes. I really liked how the camerawork naturally led into the wider drone shots which were constantly scanning for the two girls on their journey. I did feel that the special effects were slightly over-used and I admit I was getting slightly bored of seeing the green dot constantly moving between their faces. This still added to the overall uneasy feel which I feel the film benefited from.
A massive issue for me throughout the film was the fact they never put out their fires. I’m not speaking metaphorically here –– although there could be some interesting analogies to their lifestyles in there. They are camping in a desert –– one of the driest places on earth –– and they decide to leave their fire burning overnight. The tent isn’t close enough for them to get any actual warmth from it whilst they sleep and they haven’t left food to cook. So why don’t they just put the damn thing out and not risk starting a desert fire? It does allow for some pretty nice compositions though, and that’s the important thing here!
Another thing that bugged me was that their phone batteries seemed to last throughout the entire story. Mine dies after about 12 hours, let alone after 7 days. Sigh.
I would love to know what happened if they carried on past the waterfall, and would have liked to see more fights between the girls about Angie’s gambling addiction. I half expected her to sneak off in the night without Taylor, and you can see her consider it. I was proud of her for not abandoning her principals, but was inclined to feel her addictive tendencies were trivialised for the sake of a neater storyline.
I really liked how the opening was based in an entirely different set of locations, giving the film a real grounding in ‘the real world’ which seemed really important to the crew. I did feel that the film could have easily been broken up into three different stories: the story of an addict without money, two girls wandering around the desert, and a game show. I’m not quite sure if the ending fits as well as the first two do together.
I felt pretty cheated by the ending even though I’m a sucker for the ‘it was all a dream’ trope. I just felt too invested in the girls story and would have liked more about Angie’s addiction and the company, instead of being told ‘there’s loads of other stories for you to watch too’.
The concept, the characters, and the location all work so well together to create a truly unique film that, in the end, I would recommend to anyone.