Darke Reviews | The Devil’s Pass (2014)

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.

TL;DR?

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…

 

Darke Reviews | Legend of Hercules (2014)

The world, my readers, everyone owes me for this one. Brace yourselves, my review is coming. Not since Die Hard 5 have I felt this way about a film. My cohort tonight thought it was better than she expected, however that scale was against something like Sharknado. Me…well let’s go through the usual breakdown shall we.

The director, Renny Harlin, who is best known for some of my favourite films of the 90s. He can claim Die Hard 2, Long Kiss Goodnight and Cutthroat Island. He can even claim Jaws 2000 er …Deep Blue Sea. He also can claim underrated films like The Covenant, Driven and Mindhunters. Sadly Cliffhanger is in his credits as well. Now, after watching his take on Hercules I have but a few lingering thoughts about this once brilliant action director.

One, did Uwe Boll challenge Harlin to a boxing match and cause brain damage? Did Uwe Boll perhaps kill Harlin and begin impersonating him. Did he hear the song transcendental dream and the line “I’d rather have this bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy” and go “Let’s try both!” These are but some of the likely possibilities for how this film turned out. Sad to say that I think some of Boll’s films are actually better.

Of course no film of this caliber is complete without its script. There are four writing credits and if you’ve read my reviews before you know what that means. We Daniel Giat on his first (and likely last) feature film. Giulio Steve (as IMDB credits him) an Italian producer with his first and only credit for writing. Harlin himself who has minimal experience in this field; which may explain a few things. Sean Hood is the final credit. He has a written by on the recent Conan adaptation and screenplay credits on the 4th Crow movie Wicked Prayer. By some chance and random boredom one day I watched that travesty of film and waste of celluloid and investor dollars. It explains, in its raw derivativeness (that should be a word) what I witnessed tonight.

Please good readers know that I fell on my spear for you. I bore witness to this abomination and did not walk out. This is how much I love you. I watched a film in which the writers and director clearly had this conversation:

“You know that scene from Troy?”
“Use it.”
“You know that shooting style of 300?”
“Use it.”
“What about Immortals? I mean it kinda ripped off 300 but had Gods.”
“Use it.”
“How about this epic shot from 300?”
“Use it.”
“Can we use this shot from the 300 sequel that hasn’t even come out yet?”
‘Sure. Then we can claim we did it first.”

This conversation clearly happened shortly after some drug addled producer at Summit and Millennium films drank themselves into a stupor on the worst possible grain alcohol they could find. These two sloshed and brain damaged individuals heard the Rock was making a Hercules movie and thought they could make one too. It might confuse audiences and perhaps even make them some money on the side. It could ruin the Rocks chances (as if). Much like before, these are the explanations I must surmise from that festering pile of film that was shown tonight.

Every year there are two films that it’s clear are ripped off one another. It’s only a challenge to figure out which came first and which is the rip off. Last year was White House Explosions, this year it is Hercules.

Surely the acting held some redeeming value? You can ask yourself that now. Its ok I understand. Sadly Kellan Lutz (Hercules) may have found that his career peaked with his role in the twilight films. I can believe he took acting lessons on range from Kristen Stewart. Oh his body is fine to look at and you are given opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to watch it; but the boy just cannot act. Stewart is a better actress. You know how hard that is to write? No one else in the cast is even worth mentioning aside from the unknown actress who plays his love interest. Gaia Weiss (Princess Hebe) actually shows more range and emotion than the movie deserves. She also takes more personal action than anyone else in the film. Despite the fact there were at least three scenes the costumer clearly confused this girls costume with that from the She-Ra Princess of Power costume Gaia is actually worth watching once or twice.

Technicals? Don’t hold your breath. I knew how bad this film was going to be when the computer generated archers were firing shot after shot without even getting new arrows from their quivers. Completely arbitrary and abysmally rendered computer overlays of characters and backgrounds took you right out of the experience in just how bad they were. SyFy does a better job blending their actors with the movie events. Then there’s the lightning whip sword scene. Let those words sink in a moment as I move to the 3D rendering.

If anyone actually goes to see this en masse it could destroy the 3D market for movies everywhere. Every bit of the usage was a gimmick. Chains, Blocks, spears, arrows coming at you. The artist was also obsessed with Motes of dust and flower pollen on screen at all times. I think it was an addiction. More Dots he cried! Then the orderlies came and gave him his sedatives. The rendering was so bad in post-production there were parts of frames that were still blurry WITH the 3D glasses on. I didn’t even know that was possible.

Alright, how to sum this up.

TL;DR

As I have had time to really dwell on the film I can say that the smell of curdled milk has more appeal. The raw, festering, bilious mass that took up two hours of my night tonight gives me hope for one thing alone.

That if this putrid production is how the year opens it can only get better from here.

Avoid this film. Do not redbox it. Do not Netflix it. Don’t even try to watch it through other means. Just….don’t. You will thank me for it.

Now, please excuse me I need to pour some acid into my sinus cavity and find a power drill to get this thing out of my head.