So where last year I was doing a vampire movie every other day, this year I think I shall do a classic every other day. As we started the month with a classic horror, let’s jump to something a bit more modern. It is also quite likely something you haven’t heard of or seen yet. Added bonus for me to get to introduce such films. I should mention, I am a supernatural mystery junkie. Ghost Hunters, Fact or Faked, Unsolved Mysteries, etc all were favorites of mine. I have a shelf in my library around such topics. Now a few months before even hearing of this film I came across the Dyatlov Pass incident from 1959. The story of 9 hikers who were found in an unusual state some weeks after vanishing in the Ural Mountains. There are dozens of plausible explanations for it, but I love the idea of mystery.
The Devil’s Pass takes this mystery and applies the found footage genre to it. Made famous (and nigh inescapable) in 1999 by the Blair Witch Project this style of film is designed around the conceit of someone using a camcorder, cellphone, or some other recording to capture every moment of an event or experience. These films also are particularly known for shaky cam due to the nature of the work, which is a turn off for some watchers. Night vision is also a regular trick of the camera work but is usually far more bearable and tends to add something to the film. The found footage aspect really isn’t wasted and the film utilizes it as one of the tools of storytelling rather than a style. The film was written by an unknown, Vikram West, but directed by a very well known Renny Harlin. Harlin has a strange career and aesthetic to his work, but most people know Die Hard 2, Long Kiss Goodnight, and Cutthroat Island. This sort of film seems deeply out of the norm for him.
Since this one is definitely newer, I am retaining normal spoiler free territory.
It focuses on a group of college students from the University of Oregon trying to uncover the mystery of what happened in 1959. The mystery and tension continues to build amongst the group and the environment around them as it bothers to explore some of the psychology of these events. The actors, while falling to similar stereotypes, don’t really get too annoying. They are overall rather smart and came with all preparations in mind. The only mistake they make is the one not to leave when things get odd. The individual characters themselves are all relatively interesting and worth watching. They do figure some stuff out on their own that made me smile and showed some awareness usually lax in teen/twenty something films. I believe the interactions between them and watching their own fears become manifest in the performances. Regretfully, I do lose track of who is who a few times as we have a cast of Abercrombie models, but it’s negligible with only a total cast of twenty in the film.
From a technical standpoint the movie has solid practical effects where possible and they sell themselves well. It doesn’t rely on a lot of gimmicks in the effects and lets your imagination do the work. The CG that is used occurs sparingly but is limited by budget and I can tell. The best is the avalanche that had to occur in any mountainy/snowy terrain for a movie like this. Yes, you can blow it off as the sounds it makes coming down, but at the same time they really did a good job of bringing the raw force of nature to life.
I was really surprised by this film. I found it on a lark one day when I was searching my Netflix. I was reminded of the actual incident and thought I’d give it a once over. It was absolutely worth it. It is a slow burn that builds to a satisfying climax that is worth discussing with whomever you watch it with.
If you have issues with found footage though, give it a pass because the camera work is pretty normal for the genre and could make you nauseous. There is little blood or gore in this one – which I suppose hits some spoiler territory – but also in prep for the film you need to know.
All in all Devil’s Pass is a fun little horror movie and an enjoyable ride. It’s fun to think what if sometimes…