If you were to ask me what my favorite things in the world are there’s a good chance that horror films, high strangeness, and Utah would be in the top ten. I’ve been a lifelong fan of the first two and relatively recent convert to the third, having just completed the Utah “Mighty Five” national parks a few weeks back. So, imagine my absolute delight when I was given the chance to review a film that combined all those things into one gloriously unhinged mindfuck. Matthew Warren’s Delicate Arch is a 90-minute slice of psychedelic bizareness, a film that doesn’t so much tell a story as it does ask us to bear witness to a descent into the terrifying and unknowable.

            Grant, Cody, Wilma, and Ferg are four twenty somethings in Salt Lake City who are looking for a bit of fun outside of the city, eventually deciding to head down to Arches National Park. Before they even arrive, however, it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right, and it’s not long before the quartet are immersed in a miasma of high strangeness, eerie phenomenon, and meta commentary on the structure of horror films. Mixing in found footage and even animation for some sequences, Warren quite effectively depicts an unspooling reality and the four unlucky souls there to witness it.

            This had potential to go completely off the rails and just be a cavalcade of found footage tropes with little to nothing actually happening. Instead, the four actors are convincing enough to sell a very real sense of fear as the movie progresses. It’s fascinating to see that fear kind of spread through them. Rene Leech as loveable stone Ferg steals the show in this regard, starting the film off as the comedic relief and gradually becoming the audience surrogate for what we are witnessing onscreen. As they become more and more convinced that something unearthly is happening to them, their attitude goes from a hippyish excitement at the possibility of encountering something creepy to a palpable feeling of true terror. William Leon as the protagonist Grant is a bristly, unlikeable, neurotic mess, and it’s a joy to watch him become even more unraveled as the film progresses, and it’s unraveling that largely drives the narrative.

            A lot of movies that try to be “experimental” and free form fall short of that goal, becoming little more than disconnected and murky messes. Delicate Arch at time tiptoes into that territory, but only enough to highlight how odd the goings on have become. The animation sequences are used to accent the feeling doing hallucinogens while already in a state of heightened emotion and never feel gimmicky or overwhelming, all the while lending a true sense of strangeness to the film. It’s weird enough to put the viewer in the headspace it seeks to achieve but not so weird that it comes off as pretentious. The sequence leading up to the ending feels a bit overstuffed, but it’s not enough to take away from the actual conclusion of the film, which is, by the way, restrained in comparison to the rest of the film and chilling.

            Delicate Arch, at first glance, feels like a film that should fall flat right out the gate. It sounds like a movie that would be in another movie for characters in that movie to make fun of and talk about how cliched it is. Instead, it becomes as unknowable as the high strangeness that is it’s subject. It’s a smart, lean film that does a lot with very little and goes into some wonderfully unexpected places, never settling on what it’s tryingto say and never really letting the viewer pin down exactly what’s going on. But I think that’s Warren’s intention all along, and not out of laziness but rather out of a vision of presenting a tale of genuine weirdness. The desert of Utah is a strange place, and this film captures that vague sense of eeriness perfectly.

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