Film Review: Desert Cathedral – MANIFF 2015

Desert Cathedral

Desert Cathedral makes UK Premiere at 2015 Manchester Film Festival

Desert Cathedral is a very emotionally challenging film to watch not just because of the subject matter of suicide but also because this happens to be based on a true story, made to feel even more real by the VHS archival footage integrated throughout the film.

Beautifully shot and directed by Travis Gurtiérrez Senger, Desert Cathedral is a captivating story about the 1992 disappearance into the Southwestern desert of Peter Collins (played by Lee Tergesen), a real estate developer with a desperate secret who quits his job and leaves behind his unsuspecting wife and child to frantically deal with his abrupt exodus.

Peter Collins shows us his intentions of suicide by way of a video diary used to explain in more detail his reasoning behind his decisions. The footage is very evocative of the photography of that era and whilst the archival footage gives you a better insight into his mindset it is at times quite painful to watch.

Enter Durin Palouse (Chaske Spencer of ‘Banshee’ fame) a likeable, denim clad private investigator hired by Collins dowdy wife Annah (Petra White). The character feels at times a little difficult to empathise with as you don’t quite know what’s real and what’s improvised by Palouse in order to maintain his ‘helpful local’ cover. Both Tergesen and Spencer’s scenes were a frenetic at times and I felt for Spencer’s character and the pressure of trying to rescue Collins without stepping over the ethical line. White’s portrayal of the abandoned wife Annah is both touching and genuine.

I thought Tergesens performance carried the film, he shows us both sides of the character, the sad and broken suburban Husband and Father and then also during his time on the road, we see him go off on a little detour, drinking to excess and setting off fireworks, dancing around in the sand, enjoying a desert sunset, it is at this point in the film you get the first inkling that he might just turn around and go home to face the music and take care of his family!

The themes of this film are still topical today despite this taking place in the early 90’s so I think it will be well received. The soundtrack was an amalgamation of delicious country and blues and atmospheric acoustic numbers. The film feels like a documentary so it was no surprise to learn that this is the genre where Senger found his feet. He is currently in development on a narrative adaptation of “White Lines and the Fever” with co-writer Mark McCord which won Grand Jury Prize at Tribeca ’10 and a Special Jury Prize at SXSW ’10. Based on the beauty of this film I look forward to seeing more features from this young Brooklyn New Yorker!

3 out of 5 stars

Desert Cathedral – Trailer