Well, you can’t win them all. I got a bit greedy after my last two wins at Netflix Roulette and decided to tempt fate and spin the wheel for a third time in one week… and the Horror Gods punished me. Okay, that’s a bit over dramatic, Devil’s Pass (2013) was not that bad… don’t get me wrong, it was bad… but it could have been a lot worse… though, I think the filmmaker (Renny Harlin who has the dubious Guinness world record for directing the “Biggest Box-Office Flop of All Time (Cutthroat Island, if you’re curious)) would have to have been actively trying to make a horrible film at that point. Maybe that’s the major failing of this film… it was un-ironically trying… you could tell the writer and director really cared about the film… but sometimes that’s just not enough (hey guys, remember a few posts ago when I said I was going to try to keep this blog positive? Well, it took this film to break my streak of… four days… maybe I’m not a very positive person). It is a film like this that makes me nervous about ever attempting to make one myself… it is clear that you can put effort into something you believe in and still end up creating a big, steaming pile of… positive… must remember to try to stay positive…
To break out of my negativity spiral I’ll take a step back and sum up the basic plot (without spoilers)… hhhhhhh… honestly, I kind of just want to link to the Wikipedia page to save me from having to relive this movie (positive… dammit… positive!). Here it is in one sentence: five college students travel to Russia to investigate what happened to nine skiers who died under mysterious circumstances in 1959 (it is referred to as the Dyatlov Pass Incident and is apparently a true story (the death of the nine skiers not the student filmmakers)… I don’t know anything about it, so I can’t speak to the veracity of how it is presented in this film)… horror ensues (really, though, it’s horror in the vein of The Blair Witch Project horror… in other words, people wandering around, scary things happening off camera, characters fighting with one another, a long build-up to not much of a pay-off, etc).
I guess the first thing to warn you of is that this is a Found Footage Film (3F). I know there is quite a bit of divide about 3Fs. I actually have a bit of a soft spot for them… chalk it up to seeing The Blair Witch Project at an art house cinema on Cape Cod, which let out through the rear of the theater leading through a trail in the woods. Also, I truly feel that the last scene of that movie is exceptionally effective… it still haunts me… though, part of it may be that it connects to my waking nightmare regarding Night of the Living Dead (see my first post, Origins). Here’s the thing, I completely understand all of the criticisms of 3Fs, they are spot on… be that as it may, this device connects with me. It’s fine if it doesn’t connect with you… in fact, all the better if it doesn’t… it can be one of the laziest devices in modern horror filmmaking… beaten out only by the fake-out jump-scare moments we are now inundated with (it’s all your fault 1942’s Cat People… uh oh… I’ve lost the thread of positivity again). Well, since I’ve fallen back into the black sludge of negativity, let me just say one more thing: This film hits on every single cliché of 3Fs that have led to their being criticized… perhaps best demonstrated by the line “No matter how this ends, I want a record”… used to (lazily) explain why the protagonist won’t turn. the. camera. off… no matter what is going on (running, setting a broken leg, being in an avalanche, etc.). I think the only cliché they avoided was justifying the use of IR so that they can see in the dark… don’t get me wrong there is plenty of IR in the film (just look at the cover picture for this post), they just don’t bother commenting on it.
Now, time to climb out of the muck and clean myself off… oh, wait, one more thing… then I swear I’ll say something positive about this film… really… okay, I can feel your unbelieving eyes staring back to me through the computer screen… knock it off. This movie kept reminding me of The Descent (one of my favorite new-millennium horror film)… and not in an oh-that’s-really-cool-how-they’re-paying-tribute way… more in a maybe-I-should-just-turn-this-off-and-watch-The-Descent way.
So, there is something positive about this film… really (see mister and misses judgy, I told you I could be positive). What ended up making it feel like minor torture and not bamboo-stalks-under-the-fingernails torture is that it built off of and references real events. As I mentioned above, the Dyatlov Pass Incident is something real (at least real enough to have a Wikipedia page). Again, I can’t speak to how truthfully the film presented this incident, but by tethering itself to this it made the stakes feel somewhat (okay, only slightly) more important. Also, one of the characters keeps referring to conspiracy theories (the Philadelphia Experiment in particular) which was fun… and a great way to ease you into the last fourth of the film.
I guess that all I have to say about Devil’s Pass. No… wait… ugh… I thought I could contain it… no… wait… can’t keep it in… have to let it out… The most unbelievable thing about this film is that a twenty-one year old undergrad would be able to get a national grant to take four other undergrads halfway across the world to make a student documentary about folklore… I mean, come on!!!
Ahhh… I feel much better.
Happy Friday all! I’ll have a couple of short posts over the next couple of days (a random thought for tomorrow and my weekly “sum up” on Sunday), but I’ll be back in full force next week (though, Monday may be a bit light since my girlfriend is taking the day off, and going for a day out with her wins (hands down) over horror movies… then again, maybe it’s time to start another experiment with my blog: watching horror movies with someone who generally hates the genre (okay to be fair she enjoys classic slasher films and horror comedies).