Today I watched Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil (1992)
In the deserts of Namibia, a strange white man in a duster and cowboy hat stalks the desert for human prey to mutilate for his black magic rites. Meanwhile a South African woman named Wendy has just left her abusive husband and is driving across the desert towards the sea. She meets the strange man, the titular Dust Devil, and he begins to woo her while his previous crimes catch the attention of Sgt. Mukurob, a local police officer. Before long it has become a desert chase as Wendy must escape this predatory spirit whom Mukurob hunts with the help of a local magic man.
It is quite evident that writer/director Stanley was heavily influenced by the culture and political climate of his South African homeland here. The film is filled with traditional symbolism and mysticism which Stanley shows great reverence for while also fleshing out it’s mundane world with political imagery which I frankly don’t know enough about to really understand. But back to the magical elements, that is what really sells this movie for me as there are few filmmakers who can capture as occult and shadowy an atmosphere as Stanley does here. Somehow he manages to hide this incredible level of detail into a wide open, sun baked desert.
In keeping with the magical tone, it is the performances of the two most mystical characters that helps drive the material details of the story. Firstly there is John Matishikiza as Mukurob’s contact for spiritual affairs and also the film’s narrator. His character, Joe, has that arrogant and mysterious wizard swagger for sure, he is a gatekeeper to a world he knows few will understand. The more important one though is the film’s antagonist, played by Robert John Burke, who is a central focus of much of the film’s surreal elements. Despite the film describing much of this character he is still wrapped in mystery, he comes off as truly unknowable and inhuman. Despite that there is a lot of depth to him, there is an internal conflict between his spiritual side and his human side which comes across quite strongly despite his mysterious nature. That is much like the film itself as it’s narrative is perfectly understandable yet it works wonders to create a sense mystery and unknowable magic. 5/5