One can be forgiven for having an attachment to a specific place or region. Jim Jarmusch’s Patterson serves as an example of how a setting can bring a project to life beyond just being where a story is defined. Writer / Director Andy Stapp’s Destination Marfa is a love letter to West Texas, and it shows in the way the area is filmed. Sadly, what should have been a fun mix of sci-fi and horror is ultimately hampered by weak script that undermines any potential distinction.
The storyline centers on four young friends returning from the Terlingua Chili Cook-Off who, ignoring some basic warning signs, stop in the town of Marfa, Texas. The group consists of the generally stoic Erik (Marcus Jahn), the inexplicably wise and caring brother Matthew (Kyle Colton) (Brittany Jo Alvarado), and the daring Allie (Tracy Perez). As advertised, things get weird when they get to Marfa, a town known for its weird lights sometimes visible at night. Where do these lights come from and why are the citizens of the city acting so weird?
“…things get weird when they get to Marfa, a town known for its strange lights sometimes visible at night.
While the scenario of Destination Marfa sounds like a recipe for a moderately successful indie genre film, the underwhelming writing, especially when it comes to characters and dialogue, proves insurmountable. The tracks are flat and never break free from their unimaginative archetypes, while the lines are elementary at best. Their interactions with each other and the people of Marfa are often unnaturally distracting, and the lack of chemistry between these supposed long-time friends prevents any serious suspension of disbelief necessary for such a wacky plot. However, we shouldn’t necessarily blame the actors for this, as the writing doesn’t allow for performative success. The revelations towards the end are moderately interesting, but audiences have lost all empathy for these people at this point (or never had one to begin with).
However, there is an undeniable aesthetic charm present everywhere. The desert landscape contrasts nicely with the blue-hued footage that dominates the screen as the film progresses. Colors serve as an important plot indicator and are used to good effect. However, reds and blues can be a bit too vibrant at times, especially in a prolonged sequence, in particular, where they are overwhelming from the flashing lights of a police car. Even still, Stapp makes a visually interesting movie with such limited resources, which shows that he appreciates what can be accomplished in the medium.
That said, we come to the inescapable conclusion that the whole book is like a tourist guide to Marfa. Characters stop at a roadside tribute to George Stevens’ 1956 film Giant or a random (but fascinating) fake Prada store in the middle of the desert. Ultimately, these detours make it seem like Stapp prioritized location over narrative, as the inclusion of these quirks doesn’t serve the story in any meaningful way. Most tragically, Marfa’s actual lights, which should seemingly provide a sense of mystery to viewers, aren’t that enigmatic if you do a quick Google search – regardless of the credits saying they are “unexplained.” “. This proves the problem with Destination Marfa. As great as it sounds on the brochure, there’s nothing going to stop you feeling disappointed once you visit. For this reason, viewers are recommended not to exit the highway.