A science-fiction road movie, winding its way from Los Angeles to New Mexico via the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion and other picturesque bleak off-road locations filmed in a kind of gloomy magic hour to seem as eerie as they are awe-inspiring. Obviously, many screen cowboys rode through here – and down these roads drove a lot of 1970s and ‘80s icons of alienated cool, searching for America.
With echoes of Starman and The Man Who Fell From Earth, stabbed-in-the-gut loser Oren (A.J. Bowen) is miracle-cured by Annie (Brea Grant), who claims to be an alien in human form and has one-use-only extrahuman abilities tied to her arm tattoos. In return, she wants him to drive her from LA to New Mexico, because driving is one of many things – like eating non-nutritious food, drinking, dancing and making out – she has failed to learn while on her undefined mission to Earth … which, in movie alien terms, is a bit like driving across America and not seeing the Grand Canyon (that was her original plan). Oren resists but the once-fatal wound is an impressive convincer and the duo take off, visiting Oren’s straighter brother (Adam Voss) along the way … but a sociopathic hit man (Scott Poythress) dogs their tracks, adding an element of menace to the scenario, casually murdering and torturing folks as if intent on forming an Al Lettieri-in-The Getaway tribute act.
Directed by Jacob Gentry (Broadcast Signal Intrusion), who also co-wrote with Bowen and plainly let Grant (a director-writer herself) and Poythress make up some of their own business, this is moviemaking as exploration rather than following a map. It’s a relationship movie between hard-hearted human and open-minded alien, in which both players learn a lot from the other and the experience of being on the road together – but also a meditation on the horrors crowding in on decent people in the contemporary world.
Gentry, Bowen, Grant and Poythress have been building up considerable CVs in genre over the last ten years and definite themes, moods, approaches and images recur in their collective and separate work — but there still isn’t a name for their movement, which extends to quite a few other American filmmakers whose work tends to screen at FrightFest (Travis Stevens, Andy Mitton, Mickey Keating, Perry Blackshear, Chad Crawford Kinkle, Jeremiah Kipp, Beau Ballinger, David Bruckner, Brandon Christensen, Colin Minihan, Natasha Kermani, the Adams Family). If there’s a figurehead, it’d be Larry Fessenden – who pioneered a kind of engaged, under-the-radar horror, shot through with humour and anger but always grounded in contemporary neurosis … as exemplified by the kind of desperate, things-didn’t-pan-out-as-expected marginal type Bowen plays here, but also by the magical yet physical, trusting but potentially dangerous alien presence on Earth. Maybe being undefined, liminal, allusive and unfashionably emotional in a low-key manner keeps this mode of horror thriving while other trends come and go.