A man runs through the desert, covered in blood and in a panic, wide-eyed in his search for safety, but it's too late, the man who is hunting him has him in his sights and a shot rings out, leaving the victim collapsed in the dust. Meanwhile, Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert) is involved with the cops in a high speed chase not so far away, as his partner in crime is expiring from a gunshot wound in the back seat. He tries to reassure his dying friend, but it makes little difference, even if they had managed to get to civilisation he would have been dead anyway. This leaves Joe with a problem, as while he can dodge the law, he now has to dispose of the body - not to mention the woman he has locked in the back of the car.
That woman being Vivian Fontaine, played by Ashley Bell, not the most obvious leading lady for this sort of material given her intimidating features that you would think were better suited to playing scary personalities. Yet in light of that, director and writer Mickey Keating was actually doing something interesting, not going with the sort of trappings that the audience would necessarily expect him to, even if finally this was a survival horror of the kind that had been seen many times before, and would be again. When the credits (which pop up on the screen with uncommon haste, incidentally) included an introduction to inform us this was set in the late nineteen-seventies, it was clear the grindhouse was being invoked once again.
The supposed nastiness, that raw quality, of exploitation cinema that occurred during the decade that of course offered us the groundbreaking The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, was something of an obsession with the filmmakers of the twenty-first century seeking to follow in their footsteps, not always successfully though you imagine they played better to those audiences who had not grown up with the tropes they echoed. Drenching his imagery in a heavy sepia tint, Keating certainly made you feel the dust in the air and the heat baking the ground, so as far as atmosphere went he was pulling out all the stops as Vivian fights for her life, first against Joe, and next against the serial killer desert sniper.
His identity seems to be that of Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), though as the villain is often either unseen or hiding behind a gas mask, he may have an accomplice for all we know. He is actually presented right at the beginning, rambling in religious fundamentalist self-justification, just so we know where he is coming from, a fanatic basically who uses his Christianity to excuse his extremes of behaviour as far as punishing those who stray into his orbit are concerned. Again, not much new there, which left us relying on the director's style to carry the interest, sometimes paying off though at other times unintentionally inviting the audience to allow their minds to wander when the seen it all before reaction was hovering dangerously.
Nevertheless, enough of this held the interest almost in spite of itself, with its first fifteen minutes courting comparisons to Quentin Tarantino as appeared to be the rule for many a low budget genre piece ever since the nineteen-nineties in an apparent view that if it worked like gangbusters for him, then it will do the same for them. Once we get those flashbacks to find out how Vivian became Joe's hostage, we can get on with the main course, which was watching her evade all sorts of perils, not dreamt up by Joe but by Wyatt. Every so often there would be a neat little detail, such as the loudspeakers which broadcast wowing dialogue and music, then a siren as if to warn Vivian she had better steel herself, because she's in for trouble. Though Keating's most audacious element was, after showing us the blood and guts we had expected, to leave his protagonist in a mine so dark that it was often impossible for the viewer to make out what was going on; not everyone would like that, but a note of confusion definitely added substance to the finale even if it was wrapped up in too-familiar fashion. Music by Giona Ostinelli.