Big Sky is a bumbling, unfocused movie that has no idea what to do with the meager tools it has to work with.  Often, I find it lazy or uninspired to call a movie “boring.” Tons of movies that appear boring at first reveal expert craftsmanship or at least a bloody climax.  We horror fans are used to watching sixty “boring” minutes in exchange for a balls-out thirty-minute finale.  Unfortunately, Big Sky resisted all of my attempts to give it a charitable review.  This is a boring, bland head-scratcher of a movie.  I had to pause the  movie at the goddamn half-hour mark and go back to it a couple of days later just to make it through.  This is a movie with no interest in making you care about any of its characters, maintaining a sense of pacing or purpose, or, honestly, applying any sort of filmmaking spark to any of the subjects it covers. Watching “Big Sky” is just ninety minutes of vaguely recognizable actors looking distressed in the desert, and it absolutely fails to be anything greater than that.   I’m going to spoil the shit out of this movie in the following evisceration, so if you’re one of those intensely spoiler-averse people, that’s all you need to know.

Big Sky’s whole thing is that our protagonist, Bella Thorne’s Hazel, is agoraphobic.  She’s not just your usual afraid-of-crowds-or-public spaces-agoraphobic; she’s like a complete basket case.  She can barely stand to be outside of her bedroom.  When it comes time for her mother to send her to a treatment center, they have to put her in a goddamn sensory deprivation chamber in the back of a van filled with other afflicted souls heading to treatment.  For some fucking reason, the only treatment center for cases like Hazel is in the middle of the desert, which is contrived bullshit and nothing else.  Because this is ostensibly a horror movie/thriller, of course gunmen (masked in animal faces that could not be any less of a You’re Next ripoff) attack the van and shoot her handlers and her fellow patients.  Her mother survives, and so Hazel is forced to confront her fear and go get help.  The central conceit of the movie is watching Hazel grapple with her phobia as she is forced to walk through the desert.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t go anywhere with any of the elements it uses.  Frank Grillo is one of the gunmen, and since he’s immediately recognizable in the wake of his awesome Purge: Anarchy appearance and has a ton of natural charisma anyways, you start rooting for him to have a sort of plotline.  The movie even gives us a few crumbs: his partner in patient-abducting is his mentally unstable brother, and the pair seem to be working for some shadowy force that specifically requests they get “the agoraphobic girl.”  This force has some considerable resources, since we see Grillo dressed up as a cop later and he has a squad car.  But you know what?  The movie doesn’t go ANYWHERE with this stuff.  They don’t find Hazel themselves, they have no contact with their superiors, there’s just nothing.  They might as well not even be in this movie past the initial attack scene.  They show up for that and then get shot at the end by some third-act inserts.  It’s awful.

But when you get down to it, Big Sky’s true sin is its utter inability to understand mental illness, panic disorder, and what agoraphobia is.  I spent about five minutes on Google Scholar after just searching “agoraphobia” and found that basically everything the movie portrays about agoraphobia is recklessly wrong.  In the film, Hazel has to take a cocktail of drugs to…well, it’s never said what they do.  I found that the proper treatment for agoraphobia is generally psychological counseling, and the only pharmacological aid a sufferer will need is an antianxiety or antidepressant drug.  Hazel is apparently agoraphobic, but it feels like a detail the movie just threw in there to make otherwise-boring scenes of Bella Thorne wandering the desert more tense.  She mutters constantly and arranges things in the manner of popular depictions of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  In my (admittedly leisurely) research, nothing pointed towards agoraphobics displaying these symptoms specifically.  Large stretches of the film feel outright exploitative; there’s a lot of “oh, look at how awful it must be!  She’s crazy and in the worst possible situation she could be in!”  It feels demeaning to those who actually suffer from phobias and mental illness.  The film treats Hazel’s phobia like something she can beat if she concentrates hard enough.  It’s another example of “real problem as martial arts”-style filmmaking–you can overcome any problem, as long as you try hard and focus!  These kinds of attitudes are harmful to the public portrayal of mental illness–it’s not something that gets solved once you have a traumatic experience in the desert.  If anything, Hazel’s experience in this movie will undoubtedly give her even more mental baggage to deal with.

The whole time I was watching this movie, I felt like it was made out of time–for an audience who isn’t wise to its use of mental illness as plot device, and for an audience that’s so starved for good horror that they’ll sit through crap like this.  Fortunately, we don’t have to anymore.  We aren’t that audience anymore.  Avoid this one like you’re Big Sky-phobic.

Big Sky Pic