Desert Wolf (2019)

Rating: C-

Dir: Beau Yotty
Star: Beau Yotty, John Carr, Elizabeth Broeder, Dan Weisgerber

After the incomprehensible mess which was Unearthed: The Curse of Nephthys, this is like The Shawshank Redemption in comparison. Sure, Lone Gunslinger Pictures still have a good bit of work to do, to get their product up above the level of B-fodder – or even to it. But you know the old saying, “To make a good movie, first make ten bad ones”? I’m thinking that Nephthys must have counted for at least seven or eight. This takes place in “Junction City”, where sheriff G.W. Garrett (Yoty) is attacked by an animal while investigating the scene of a disturbance. It turns out to be the death of a local man at the claws and teeth of, presumably, the same animal that attacked Garrett.

An autopsy by the local doctor (Weisgerber) indicates a wolf was responsible: not an animal native to the area. By this stage, there have already been several ominous shots of a full moon, so you won’t be surprised to hear where this is going. It’s no shock that it is a werewolf who is responsible. The question is, who is it? We see that Garrett’s senses are beginning to heighten, and the following month another savaged corpse turns up. A local native American shaman, Kai Benally (Broeder) suspects something is up: Garrett dismisses her stores of “skinwalkers”, but accepts a protective talisman from her. As the bodies keep piling up, with three murders in 24 hours, his deputy, Tuttle (Carr), also starts to suspect Garrett may be involved in the sudden rash of attacks… until Tuttle turns up dead.

The main issue here is the traditional bugbear of low-budget cinema: substandard sound. It feels as if every scene is plagued by unnecessary audio artifacts, whether it is a howling gale of wind, a ticking clock, excessive echo or simply an inexplicable hum. Any time the film felt like it was going to pull me in as a viewer, I’d be jarred back to reality by the sound problems. The night scenes are also several notches too dark. As for the werewolf… The film describes itself as “A throwback to the creature features of the 1980’s,” but you have to go back several more decades: An American Werewolf in London this is not. There’s no transformation to speak of, and it’s mostly a hairy glove and yellow contacts, until the end.

Still, I didn’t hate this. There’s a honest simplicity to it, though a dumb subplot about a visiting pop-star should have died a death before shooting, and the question of what the werewolf was doing before it bit Garrett is never answered. But the central performances aren’t bad, and help distract from the almost eerie lack of other people – or even cars! – in the streets of Junction City. It’s unashamedly Arizonan too, wearing its saguaro on its sleeve, as it were. Yost makes good use of the desert landscapes to create an authentically Western atmosphere, with more cowboy hats than you typically see around the streets here. It has no pretensions of being any more than a scary werewolf story, and as such, its lack of ambition is kinda admirable.