Low budget films can be hit and miss. Despite the passion and commitment of their creators, they can often be inept, poorly executed disappointments. Deadfall Trail is a clear exception to this. A tightly crafted thriller, it clearly demonstrates that loads of cash are not necessary to make a quality film.
Paul, John and Julian (played respectively by Cavin Gray, Slade Hall and Shane Dean, this last most familiar to this reviewer for starring in Texas schlockfest The Death Factory Bloodletting) are setting out on something of a minimalist camping trip, bringing with them only a bottle of water each, a backpack and the clothes they are wearing. John and Julian are both old hands at this sort of thing, living off the land for weeks at a time, but Paul is a newbie.
Julian is a little unstable emotionally, perhaps from some trauma or personal problems in his past, obliquely alluded to, and he takes an instant dislike to the callow Paul. Julian is very serious about this ultimate man vs. nature survival, and doesn't like having to spend time correcting Paul's mistakes. John is the soothing force between the two, with both the wood smarts and the calmness that his compatriots alternately lack. When he is injured during an unsuccessful boar hunt, this dynamic is significantly altered.
I won't give any more description of the plot, as that would reveal much that ought to be seen unfolding in the film. Suffice it to say that things get both stressful and interesting for all involved.
The film's main drawback is its slow pace, clearly a conscious choice on the part of director Roze. It makes for a bit of a slog through the first third of the film, when the three are bonding, bickering and enjoying the wide open vistas of Arizona. Once through this portion, however, the intensity of the situation effectively draws in the viewer, even though the pace never really speeds up. The film is something of a slow burn, but worth the wait. All three of the main cast (almost the only cast) deliver strong, naturalistic performances, which only rarely devolve into melodrama, and this seems to be more the fault of dialogue that needed one more polish than any problem with the actors.
The film is shot mostly with a handheld camera, but they don't make a fetish of the shaky cam, which is a relief to the eyes and stomach. The Arizona wild provides a harsh and appropriate vista for the struggles unfolding on screen. The direction is confident, and a sense of harrowing danger is built and easily maintained. Both the deliberate pace and the moderate gore will turn off various viewers, but in each case the payoff is worth the sacrifice. The level of craftsmanship in every facet is outstanding. Deadfall Trail looks like a film with a much bigger budget than it actually had. There are flaws, no doubt, but they are insignificant and can easily be overlooked. This is not a film for everyone, particularly those looking for either whiz bang action or the feel good hit of the year, but is recommended nevertheless.