It’s tempting to describe “Desolation” as a mashup of “Sliver” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” but that would only make it sound more interesting — and a great deal more coherent — than it is. Actually, there is a perversely meta quality to this tediously sadistic thriller, especially when a B-movie hunk grouses about having to audition for yet another formulaic programmer. (A conspicuously positioned poster indicates something called “Bow Hunter 3” has been, until now, his best-known credit.) You keep waiting for the follow-up scene in which he triumphantly announces: “Honey, I landed the part … in ‘Desolation.’” Unfortunately, neither actor-turned-director David Moscow nor scripters Matthew McCarty and Craig Walendziak are willing to go that extra mile, despite teasing signals that, at any moment, they’ll forgo all pretense of seriousness and plunge all the way into self-parody.
Dominik García-Lorido stars as Katie Connor, a character introduced as a desk clerk for a small-town New York hotel, and you have to give her and the filmmakers this much: She really does look like someone you’d see behind the front desk at a Ramada Hotel or a Holiday Inn Express outside of a sprawling metropolis. More important, during the early scenes, when the movie attempts to make sense, she comes across as credibly vulnerable and malleable, so it doesn’t require a too-strenuous suspension of disbelief when she quickly falls for Jay Cutter (Brock Kelly), the aforementioned B-movie hunk, while he’s shooting on location in her town — and then impulsively accepts his invitation to accompany him back to Los Angeles.
As soon as they’re in L.A., however, “Desolation” starts to go off the rails. After being introduced to Jay’s unpleasantly cynical friends at a party, where she learns that her new lover’s former lover committed suicide not so long ago, Katie begins to have doubts about staying with him in his not-quite-seedy, not-quite-renovated apartment building. Unfortunately, she represses those doubts, even after she’s left alone while he goes out of town for what he claims will be a short movie shoot. Pretty soon, she’s witnessing strange visions, picking up bad vibrations — literal, not figurative, bad vibrations — and experiencing ever-increasing paranoia as she suspects someone is watching her because, well, they are. Several someones, actually.
Around the halfway mark, “Desolation” stops making sense altogether and spins off into the realm of free-form absurdity. Continuity is, at best, an occasional thing, and viewers are left with the impression that they’re watching something the filmmakers improvised from day to day without any regard to interior logic. (To cite just one of the more obvious gaping plot holes: Why doesn’t Katie simply vacate the premises when she has the chance?)
Granted, there are random stretches when one can discern, beneath all the over-amped silliness, the vague outlines of a potentially intriguing narrative about the commercialization of high-tech voyeurism, the bastardization of celebrity, and the amoral pursuit of success in any form, at any price, on the cutthroat lower rungs of showbiz. But that only serves to make “Desolation” even more frustrating than a routinely unambitious potboiler.