‘Horror In The High Desert’, Gary, And The Digital Queer Experience [The Lone Queer]

Horror In The High Desert Gary missing poster

Many people go hiking alone. I know many people who venture solo out into the wilderness for a day or multiple-day hikes. That excursion into nature is an excursion into the unknown, and doing solo is a risky venture unless you’re highly knowledgeable about the area and the expertise. Then there’s the fear of those who are out there with you. In Dutch Marich’s Horror in the High Desert (2021), wilderness enthusiast, Gary Hinge (Eric Mencis), ran into some of those who were out there with him and was never seen again. 

Horror in the High Desert is a faux documentary that plays out like one of those true crime documentaries that people thoroughly enjoy. It tells the story of the investigation of our lone queer, Gary, who went missing in the Nevada high desert while on one of his many wilderness excursions. Interviews with his sister, Beverly (Tonya Williams Ogden), and his roommate, Simon (Errol Porter), really delve into the personality of Gary. They both explain that Gary was a highly intelligent and caring individual who loved trains, the wilderness, and his dog, Tuca. 

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The worry for Gary’s safety began after he didn’t come back from one of his excursions in time to take care of Tuca while his roommate was going out of town. Beverly, Simon, investigative journalist Gal (Suziey Block), Detective Bill (David Morales), and many others led the search and rescue efforts for Gary. The search for him was off and on for a while. Every now and then, a new tidbit would surface. Then the tidbits began to get bigger and bigger. Gary’s truck was found with mysterious barefoot prints. His wilderness vlog which no one knew about was discovered, and his followers were actively participating in finding him. Then the biggest piece of evidence was found. 

Deep in the high desert, his backpack was found. Within that backpack was Gary’s severed hand along with his camera that held the footage of what happened to Gary. And what happens to Gary has to be one of the most terrifying moments in horror history. That’s an opinion that I hold, at least. To no further delve into spoiler territory, I will say that no one, whether they be queer or not, would have wanted to be in Gary’s position once he reached that dark, dark place in the Nevada high desert. 

While Gary is our lone queer, his plight within Horror in the High Desert has nothing to do with his sexuality. His sexuality is only brought up due to a part of the investigation. Bill, the investigator assigned to his case, came across posts between Gary and an unnamed individual on a Facebook local sellers group. Gary and the unnamed individual started something more than a conversation about local goods. It was soon discovered that they had become romantically involved. 

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Bill reached out to the unnamed individual as a part of the investigation, but the unnamed individual didn’t want to have any part of it. Only after threats from Bill that they would either cooperate with him or have to speak to actual law enforcement did they begin to talk. But nothing came out of it. The guy’s alibi was concrete, and they said how sad and upset they were about Gary’s disappearance. Their name was cleared. It boiled down to the other guy’s fear of being outed in his community as the reasoning as to why he didn’t want to talk. 

This is a tiny moment in Horror In The High Desert. But, it does reveal that Gary was queer. His sister and roommate were unaware of this. They actually never mention it in their interviews. Bill is the only one who mentions it. The fact that it’s not delved into much more gives me both good and questionable feels. 

Good feels because, within the film’s world, it wasn’t a big deal. Moreover, the unnamed individual wasn’t outed by using his name. That person’s right to his sexuality wasn’t exploited. Questionable feels because Gary’s sexuality was outed. Whether his sister or roommate knew or eventually knew about it goes unsaid in the film, but a part of me wonders how they both would have reacted to it had it been a bigger part of the film. But it’s not. It’s a simple few minutes to explain a possible suspect who was cleared. 

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Beyond that, Gary’s sexuality isn’t further explored. It isn’t necessary to the plot. That doesn’t stop me from going places with that plot point, though. There are a few ways that the film could have gone if his sexuality was more of a focus. The first is the dangers of meeting strangers on the internet. The fear of how loved ones will respond to sexuality leads queers to the internet. So, a lot of queer individuals go through a period where meeting someone online is their only way of expressing or discovering their sexuality. It was, at the time, the assumed safest option.

Had the person who Gary met been a bigger part of his disappearance then that would have hit home for a lot of people. Even the mention of it in the film elicited a bit of panic within me on my first watch. “Did Gary meet this person in real life, and was this person baiting queer people for their own sick pleasure?!” was exactly what went through my mind. That wasn’t the danger in the film, though.

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Another thought that went through my head was how closeted Gary was about other aspects of his life, not just his sexuality. He had a survivalist blog that had 50,000 followers that neither his sister nor roommate knew about. No one knew about it until deeper into the investigation of his disappearance. That struck me as a metaphor for his unwillingness to share his life, and perhaps that was an extension of sexuality. Did Gary express his queerness on the blog, or eventually plan to, and that’s why he kept it a secret? This correlates with queer people who are afraid to share other aspects of themselves as they may be part of that sexuality that they aren’t ready to reveal.  

Once the footage of what happens to Gary starts to roll, it’s as if we really know who Gary is. We know how his loved ones perceived him. We know his deepest secrets. The culmination of all of that results in the viewer being wholly involved in Gary as a person. His sweet demeanor, his love of life, his goofy humor, and his humanity as he also had things to hide. Almost every aspect of Gary is given before that doomed footage rolls. Horror in the High Desert isn’t just about terrifying audiences. It’s about having them empathize and fall in love with Gary as a character.



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