Dust Devil

07/05/2019 09:54

Film: Dust Devil

Year: 1992

Director: Richard Stanley

Writer: Richard Stanley

Starring: Robert John Burke, Chelsea Field and Zakes Mokae



This was a film that I never heard of before and it appeared on a list of best films for the 1990’s. I came in not really knowing anything about it, which is one of my favorite ways to check out a film. The synopsis is a woman on the run from her abusive husband encounters a mysterious hitch-hiker.

We start this film with a bit of voice-over narration. This is actually something revisited throughout the film. These events take place in South Africa, right after the apartheid ended. We have a man who is hitch-hiking, Robert John Burke, and a woman picks him up. They go back to a house and he takes a picture of her with a Polaroid camera. They make love and during it, he snaps her neck. He mutilates the body, smears blood all over the walls in weird symbols and drawings. He then spreads gasoline and sets the house on fire.

The investigation is led by Ben Mukurob (Zakes Mokae). Now he’s black and his superior is Capt Cornelius Beyman (William Hootkins). These two get along, but some of the other white officers do not. Ben goes to the house where the fire occurred and he tries to look into what happened. He seeks out Joe Niemand (John Matshikiza) who is a local shaman. He thinks there’s a shape-shifting Dust Devil that is lurking around.

We then shift to a married couple Wendy (Chelsea Field) and Mark Robinson (Rufus Swart). There’s a phone call in the middle of the night and Wendy answers it. We can’t hear anything on the other line and Mark asks who it was. She tells the lines got crossed and he doesn’t really seem to believe her. He asks her a question and she ignores him. Wendy is unhappy and she flees by hitting the road.

The strange hitch-hiker and Wendy are on a collision course for the town of Bethany. She comes in to use the phone and makes a collect call to her husband. He doesn’t answer and on the answering machine the operator is trying to see if he’s there, which leaves the name of the city. He doesn’t pick up though. All the while, the hitch-hiker is playing the pinball machine right by Wendy.  She looks out the window and sees an RV with its owner.

That night she dozes off while driving and almost hits the Dust Devil. She crashes her car and ends up sleeping there. It is the next day that she finds the RV a short distance away. Before she can open its door, a man with a shovel appears. He digs her out and she’s back on the road. She then finally meets the hitch-hiker. She gives him a ride, but he disappears from her car when they come up on another hitch-hiker, who looks much like he does. They run into each other the following morning again and he asks if he can still get that ride.

Ben continues to investigate what is going on and it causes him nightmares. He is a broken man from losing his son and in turn, his wife leaving. The RV is found with its owner inside, another victim of the Dust Devil and it seems that Wendy could be the next target. Her husband is also on the trail trying to find her.

Now I’m not going to lie, this is a film that was a bit difficult to follow. I do think that it starts off a little bit too vague, but as it goes on things really started to make more and more sense for me. A Dust Devil is something that I really didn’t know what it was, but it does seem to be a real entity. Setting this in the deserts of South Africa for the most part was a good move. I love little dust tornadoes we see and just the bleakness of the area. It really goes with the concept of this supernatural entity and what it does.

From what the film tells us, a Dust Devil is a shape-shifting being that uses the parts of people to perform powerful magic. Going farther from that though, it calls out to the hopeless and it puts itself into their path in order to do this. I love this idea and that really explains how Wendy encounters it. Now the film doesn’t really show the abuse her husband is inflicting and I also feel like that is needed somehow. I also find it fitting though that Ben’s life is a disaster and he’s the one trying to solve the case.

That brings me to the pacing of the film, which this is definitely a slow-burn. I’m usually down for this and I’ll be honest, I did enjoy it, but I also found it to be a bit boring. I think for me a lot of came from the fact that I really didn’t know where it was going and what was going on. We had some great sequences and the setting is pretty amazing as well. I do feel the film finds its way and it did get better as I understood more.

To the acting of the film, I did think this aspect of the film is pretty solid. Burke is good in his role, but what I think the best part of it is how subdued he plays the role. I’ve not seen him in a lot of other movies, but I am starting to think that is the only way he can play it. Regardless, I think he fit the role perfect for what they needed. Field was solid as well. She is quite good looking and I love the change in her character after this ordeal starts. The empowerment at the end really makes it. Mokae is good as well. He has to deal with racism while he is just trying to do his job, but he does handle it well. I would say the rest of the cast rounded out the film fine for what was needed.

As for the effects of the film, they are quite subdued and not really a whole lot of them, but I think this does help the kind of surreal feel to the film. The look of the Dust Devil is good. We only get glimpses which I like and I think it works better. The blood in the film looks good. I love using it create pictures and symbols on the wall early in the film. That was quite unnerving. The film is also shot very well in my opinion.

Now with that said, this film is pretty interesting. We explore an interesting concept of this supernatural entity, the Dust Devil, seeking out the broken humans for it to create black magic. I like the idea of Wendy being the next victim with her life ordeals and need to find the strength to overcome it. The film though is a bit boring early on, but it does find its way as it goes. The acting is pretty solid across the board. There’s not a lot in the way of effects, but what we get are good. The soundtrack of the film really didn’t stand out to me. I did like the use of ambient noise that comes into play later. There are some social issues in the movie that are explored, which I always like when you can incorporate that. Overall I’d say this is a good film and I did enjoy it, it is just lacking a bit to really put it over the top.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10