Netflix Roulette: Donner Pass

I was thinking of revisiting a classic this morning in order to help me forget about Haunt… though, to be honest, I actually had a spend a minute this morning trying to remember what movie I watched yesterday… that could be due to the completely forgettable nature of the movie or that this experiment is starting to get to me… probably both. Either way, I ended up trying my luck at Netflix Roulette again. I’m glad to report that at the very least Netflix finally chose me a non-haunted-house horror movie. This time it came up with a straight-forward slasher-film. I really, really wanted to hate this movie… it has a lot going against it (more on that later) and the first half (really the first hour) creeps along, mostly spinning its wheels… but, I have to admit, the movie started pulling me along towards the end. Don’t get me wrong, Donner Pass is not a good movie… not by any stretch of imagination…but, it’s creative and ambitious, which is more than can be said for most modern horror films. I left the movie with the thought “huh… well, that was kind of neat”. So, there’s that.

Donner Pass starts out like almost every slasher-film. A group of four teenagers (college students… I think…) go on a trip to a remote location, a “cabin” in the woods, no less (I used quotation marks because this cabin is nicer than any house I’ve ever lived in). The “cabin” happens to be near the historic site of the Donner party tragedy and local legend (according to the two male leads) has it that one of the members of the Donner party survives to this day hunting and eating the locals. Mayhem ensues.

Let’s start with what this film does wrong and then end with the good. To be fair, this movie does very little wrong. That’s not a compliment… for the vast majority of the time this movie never really leaves the straight path of a slasher-film, so there is really nowhere for it to go wrong… but, that also means there were no risks taken that could have paid off. There are a couple of weird misfires (like an out-of-place date rape subplot… it doesn’t feel gratuitous, just that it belongs in some other movie… though, in the end it figures into the plot in an interesting way). It was clearly a(n extremely) low budget film, so there are the expected issues: bad dubbing, bad acting, bad effects (though no CGI… all practical… which, helps), bad fake boobs, bad continuity errors (the best of which has to do with a claw-hammer that either found a way to duplicate itself or transport itself), etc. However, you really can’t hold that against this film… well, I guess you can, but my feeling is that if you’re judging this movie you should compare it against its contemporaries. It wouldn’t be fair to hold this film next to bigger-budget fare (your Insidi or Poltergi). Therefore, it feels like a low-budget b-movie whose grasp surpassed reach… that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

A great deal of what I enjoyed about this film happens in the last twenty minutes or so and since I don’t want to spoil anything for those who may watch it, there’s not much I can say. What I can say, though, is that the filmmaker (Elise Robertson, who according to her IMBD page has spent more time in front of the camera than behind… though, it doesn’t show) clearly had a plan for this movie and nearly everything that happens has some payoff (she took a clear note of Chekhov’s gun principle… though, with bear repellant). That goes a long way with me… I’ve been watching a ton of horror movies lately and one of the things that I simply cannot stand is random elements introduced for no perceivable purpose (see my thoughts on Haunt). The script, while not the most creative, is tight. In addition, the filmmaker plays around quite nicely with your expectations surrounding the characters. There are no deep character studies here, but, at the same time, these characters are not simple one-dimensional cut0outs. In addition, these changes in the characters behaviors do not seem random or unjustified.

So, you are probably thinking I’m going to give this movie a strong recommendation… sorry to disappoint, but I think I have to give it a qualified pass (no pun intended… in fact, I didn’t notice the accidental pun until my second read-through of this). Donner Pass, as I mentioned above, is not a very creative film (save for the last twenty minutes or so), nor it is very scary (in fact, I should take the word “very” out of the last sentence… it is not scary… period… in either jump- or legitimate-scares). Therefore if you’re looking for a creative and scary slasher-film there are literally dozens of better choices (just look at some of my earlier posts for some suggestions). “Well, then what’s the qualifier” I’m sure you’re asking. I would say that from a purely academic or creative side this movie shows how you can write and film a tight/cheap slasher film.

Random though: I was going to try to check out some more information about this film… I discovered that there is no Wikipedia page for the movie… I didn’t know that could happen these days… wow…

I’m going to head home and download Arkham Knight… so, if you don’t hear from me for a week you know why… kidding (mostly)… see you tomorrow (probably).


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