Director: Bill Crain
Year of release: 1989
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 85 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: VHS only though it's also on YouTube
Tagline: "Too terrifying to be real, too deadly to be anything else" and "In the desert, when the sun sets, the real fear begins".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: New couple Greg and his girlfriend Chris are out in the desert having a good time away from civilisation and prying eyes. The frisky pair are not as alone as they think however being viewed from afar by someone driving a black pickup truck. Unaware of the attention the lovers are soon joined by another couple who themselves have had an encounter with the black truck only for it to disappear when it seemingly had them cornered. Putting the incident to the back of their minds the group continue having fun until they are joined by yet another couple, this time made up of Greg’s older brother Kyle and his new partner. There is tension simmering between the brothers as we learn that Chris was recently dating Kyle only to move on to Greg, something which has stuck in the craw of the older brother.
Soon enough the group are rattled to find an ominous warning note which claims they are all going to die. This development kicks up further trouble between the two brothers who come to blows. The scuffle results in Kyle taking off with his new woman in tow. The others, dismissive of the note decide to remain where they are to party into the night.
Ignoring the warning of course proves to be unwise as it isn’t long before the driver of the black truck makes a return with violent consequences.
Good points: *The sun soaked desert makes for a unique location which still-to this day is something relatively underutilised within slasher films Though the story is simple and nothing we haven’t seen before time and time again the desert backdrop really promotes a freshness as well as helping with the atmosphere. Mirage wouldn’t be half as memorable were it not for the vast and empty desert which brings with it feelings of vulnerability and isolation.
*The use of the black truck is interesting and for the first two thirds of the film it proves to be the sole source of menace with the driver himself only being seen sporadically from the waist down. Before the full reveal of the killer we’re instead witness to lots of shots of the truck which manages to appear both mysterious and ominous. No doubt Duel inspired it conjures up memories and comparisons to that movie at times which is no bad thing.. In what’s quite a minimalist film generally the truck almost becomes a character in its own right which again like the setting makes this stand out more than it otherwise would.
*Very mild spoiler: When fully revealed towards the end the killer proves to have no mask or disguise being very normal looking in appearance. Though initially disappointed by this his bizarre and decidedly unhinged personality quickly shines through and eventually won me over. He’s rather creepy and even sadistic in the manner in which he toys with his victims. In a funny way it’s like the truck was his mask and once out of it and on foot he becomes perhaps even more twisted.
*I’d say the music mostly strikes the right note with some decent songs playing throughout as well as some notable mood creating instrumental pieces. These latter bits helped somewhat with the atmosphere.
*The Chris character is a credit to the film in the role of final girl and competently holds up her end of things. As well as fulfilling her duties well in an exciting showdown with the killer towards the end she also comes across as likeable enough in the earlier parts of the film. This is important seeing that it would perhaps be easier to see her as a bit slimy moving on quickly from one brother to the next as she did. She’s a real looker as well which of course helps!
The other characters aren’t as memorable with the exception of Bambi. She shines briefly with her air head tendencies early on.
*With a small cast there is as you would expect a subdued body count but despite this there are a handful of satisfying gooey moments. Grenades, chains and arrows all come into play to provide some memorable gory scenes.
Bad Points: *There was a very brief scene early on that was spliced in with the two couples talking (just prior to Bambi and Kyle arriving) that I thought seemed odd and out of place. As the group are chatting we see several waist down shots of Chris running away from the killer over rocks which must have been taken from the end of the film though it made no sense to include it here. It was pretty confusing and it made me think the killer had another victim he’d been holding hostage or something who had managed to escape. They were talking about the astral plane at the time so maybe it was supposed to be Chris having a premonition of her upcoming predicament but even in that case it seemed too jarring and weird.
Spoiler: Later on I was also a bit confused when Trip and Chris find a body covered in a bag on the desert floor. I wasn’t able to make out the dialogue here (or read the note) with my initial thought being it was maybe just Mary’s body being recycled and placed/posed in a new position to mess with Trip. Possibly though it was supposed to be another random victim or even Bambi had the killer caught up with her off screen. I was left unsure and I hate having unanswered questions coming out of a movie.
*Minor spoilers: Mirage is unrealistic in a couple of areas as you would think that Mary and Trip would have heard the grenade blast and realised something was wrong when the red truck is destroyed. Maybe it was supposed to have occurred a long way from camp but it would have been quiet at night and in relatively flat terrain noise would carry.
At the same time it was also weird how for a few seconds Chris and Greg begin shaking up and down in the front of the truck after noticing the grenade in the back. I didn’t understand this as the truck was parked at the time so wouldn’t have been moving.
Big spoiler: The killer also takes a huge amount of damage, far more so than would be possible to withstand. Would have been better if he’d have plucked the arrow out of his chest or shoulder etc instead of his head as though the effects were good it made things seem too hard to believe.
On another unrealistic note the Kyle character certainly took his time clearing his head as he seemed to drive around all evening, through the night and into the next day without going home.
*Another big spoiler: I wasn’t too keen on the ending which was designed to make us question whether there really was a black truck and killer or if instead this was just a mirage of sorts that Chris imagined with she herself being responsible for the murders. Well either that or the killer somehow survived and cleaned everything up. Neither really make much sense though as Trip and Mary saw the truck themselves before even meeting up with Chris so it’s doubtful they would have shared the same delusion. To go the other way doesn’t add up either as it was unrealistic as it was seeing how much damage the killer took already so to think that he actually survived it all is unfathomable.
Verdict: Mirage for me turned out be an engaging curiosity which I think benefitted a lot from the unique setting and gimmick of the truck. It’s a shame the film was never able to secure a proper DVD or Blu-Ray release and as it was I had to resort to watching it online. Edit: I’ve since managed to snag a copy on VHS! Being so difficult to find it isn’t as well-known as it should be and probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
It’s far from perfect as it’s unrealistic at times and the killer might be a mild disappointment to some once finally revealed. He also has no backstory which doesn’t help. Overall though I found the positives out-weighed the negatives.
It’s well worth checking out either online or in its often elusive VHS format. Hopefully one day it receives a more modern release be it on DVD or even Blu-Ray.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Greg: Buried up to his neck in sand with a grenade left by his head.
2)Mary: Throat cut during the night. Think the murder occurred off camera.
3)Trip: Run over with the black truck and then shot.
4)Kyle: Shot and then stabbed in the neck with an arrow.
5)Black clad killer: Shot through the head with an arrow. Shot and then cut open so that Chris can retrieve the key he swallowed.
Notes: Maybe you wouldn’t want to count #5 seeing that the ending indicated her either survived or never existed in the first place. There were also a couple of skeletal bodies seen in the final act so you may want to include those as well. Lastly I should highlight the part I mentioned previously where a corpse is found in a sleeping bag where I wasn’t sure if it was just Mary again or someone else.
Review edited on the 8th of November 2020.