Mirage (1990) Review
Chris, Greg, Trip, and Mary are two couples who head out to the middle of the desert for vacation. Tensions arise when Greg's older brother, Kyle, who used to date Chris, arrives with his new squeeze Bambi. The brothers, of course, end up getting into a brawl over Chris and kyle storms off into the desert on his dirt bike with Bambi (it turns out that she was just a ploy to make Chris jealous and for Kyle to get her back). Well, pretty soon, someone in a black truck begins terrorizing them and picking them off one by one. Is it Kyle, out for vengeance? or is it someone completely random?
I imagine the creation of Mirage came about when someone thought to his/herself, "Say, I wonder what would happen if that Duel movie was a straight slasher, and Dennis Weaver was replaced by a group of teens?" And really, that's all you need to know about this one. It plays out exactly like it sounds, only less campy than expected.
First of all, I love the setting. The whole "desert" thing had been done before in both 1982's Death Valley as well as in 1987's Blood Frenzy, and each of those captured one really good thing about the setting. Death Valley fantastically utilized the common characteristics of it, including gold mines and even a gunslinger tourist attraction. Blood Frenzy nailed how hot the desert is. Mirage, however, perfectly captures how dry and seemingly endless the desert is, which works wonders for the film itself. Throughout the whole film, you can see some land formations in the distance that may or may not offer help, yet no matter how far these characters walk, they always seems just as far away as they were before, further adding to the feeling of no-escape prevalent throughout Mirage.
The suspense in Mirage is fantastic as well, even if it can't match up to something like the similarly-themed Road Games or even Duel. The characters all come across as likable and/or believable people, and even though it's very easy to pinpoint the survivors and the victims from the get-go, it still managed to rack up some suspense during the chase scenes. The truck the killer uses is menacing enough to be effective (especially when it just appears out of nowhere), and besides, where are you going to run in the desert? It's all flat and open space; nowhere to go, and nowhere to hide.
Just because it's really suspenseful doesn't mean Mirage doesn't have some gory bits up its sleeve. The kills are never too creative, but we do get some nasty little nuggets to feast on. One character gets a grenade in the face, another gets dismembered, another gets shot with an arrow, etc. Even though some of the kills are offscreen, we do get to see the aftermaths, and the effects there are really good. The body count doesn't reach astronomical proportions, but there's enough deaths to keep any slasher fan satisfied.
The pacing in Mirage is near-perfect, seeing as it follows my idea of great pacing in slasher films. I've always said the best way to pace a slasher is to divide your running time like this: Thirty minutes for entertaining character building to set up likable/entertaining characters (and maybe an opening murder or two), forty-fifty minutes of stalk and slash, then ten-twenty minutes of killer-final girl confrontation.
Mirage starts off with a few fun montages of this group playing football and one of the couples making love in the back of a pick-up with a weight pressing down on the accelerator, causing them to roar across the desert (!). Then we get some great suspense and the killer picking off these teens, and finally, the killer is revealed and he chases the final girl around some rocks. Perfection.
I guess it wouldn't be much of a spoiler to say that the killer is just someone completely random. However, one might think it's a whodunit because we never see his face; only his boots and leather gloves. He's not disfigured or anything; he's just a normal, everyday guy who happens to enjoy killing partying teenagers or anyone else who crosses his path.
The acting is good all around, despite brief moments of character stupidity or just stupid lines. It's a well-made film for sure, with good camera-work and a director who obviously knew what he was doing. For the most part, it's well-written with fun dialogue and nothing really bogging the story down.
I really, really love Mirage. It held my attention from the beginning and never lost it, and for that, I love it. It was never boring and I never felt compelled to, say, check Facebook during it's complete 83-minute running time. Everything you'd want for a fun horror movie is all there: the gory kills, the great suspense, the perfect pacing, the taunting killer, the likable characters, the fun montages to cheesy music, everything! Really, my only complaints are that I didn't care for the twist ending and I wish they had done something with the whole "mirage" concept. I think if Chris had started having mirages near the end of the truck coming towards her and the audience never knowing if it's a mirage or not, the movie would have been benefited greatly. Still, it's very obscure and hard to find, but if you do obtain a copy, watch it immediately, because this one is well worth tracking down.
The Verdict: Containing all the elements of a good slasher movie and leaving only a few nitpicks, Mirage is highly obscure for some unknown reason and remains a prime example of how there were actually some good horror movies coming out in the early nineties.
Score: 9/10. A must-see, even if it's not totally flawless.
Don't trust my judgment? Here's two other opinions:
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