With the taut and terrific "Blue Desert" (at the AFI USA Independent Showcase at the Monica 4-Plex), feature debuting writer-director Bradley Battersby finds disturbing contemporary implications in a classic lady-in-distress thriller.
If "Blue Desert" seems even better than it did when it premiered at the Palm Springs Film Festival in January, it's because it touches upon some of the same women-versus-men issues that "Thelma & Louise" does but with considerably more clarity. Genuinely scary, it's an involving genre piece.
Having been raped and then attacked a second time, a beautiful New York comic-strip artist (Courteney Cox) packs up and retreats to a mobile home, borrowed from relatives, on the outskirts of a small desert community. A scruffy, straggly-haired drifter (Craig Sheffer) strikes up a conversation with Cox in a local diner that develops into a casual acquaintance. When he makes a pass at her, she overreacts, knocking him out with a frying pan. This leads to her meeting the local cop (D.B. Sweeney), a clean-cut, well-mannered type who urges her to press charges because the drifter is a convicted sex offender.
Thus begins the artist's unexpected and unpredictable nightmare, which allows Battersby and his co-writer Arthur Collis to reveal the uneasiness and paranoia with which women view men in a violent society, at a time when so many men are experiencing fear and anger in the wake of women's liberation. Cox comes to realize that if she is to save herself, she must find in herself some of the strength and assertiveness of her own comic-strip superwoman, whom she calls the Iron Medusa.
Having provided his three principal actors with substantial parts, Battersby, a former AFI fellow, proceeds to draw from them thorough, wide-ranging portrayals. Sheffer must keep us as well as Cox confused and alarmed by his clearly fragile mental state; he brings to mind Jason Patric in last year's somewhat similar desert thriller, "After Dark, My Sweet."
Cinematographer Paul Murphy captures the film's unsettlingly remote locales crisply. However, because "Blue Desert" (rated R for adult situations, language, some violence) is an example of modestly budgeted no-frills filmmaking, it is ill-served by Joel Goldsmith's trite score, which tends to make it seem more conventional than it actually is. In any event, we're sure to see more of Battersby and his capable cast.
Courteney Cox: Lisa Roberts
D.B. Sweeney: Steve Smith
Craig Sheffer: Randall Atkins
Philip Baker: Hall Joe
A Neo Films production in association with First Look Films. Director Bradley Battersby. Producer David Andrew Peters. Executive producers Joel Soisson, Michael Murphey. Screenplay Arthur Collis, Battersby. Cinematographer Paul Murphy. Editor Debra Bard. Music Joel Goldsmith. Running time: 1 hour, 37 mins.
MPAA-rated R (a sexual scene, language and some violence).