Renny Harlin’s latest film, “Devil’s Pass,” has a lot going for it. It’s based on the true story of a 1959 expedition of hikers in the Ural Mountains of Russia were found dead under mysterious circumstances: They were found outside their tents in various states of undress, with injuries including ripped out tongues and crushed bones… without any sign of external injury. And one with a massive dose of radiation. In the middle of nowhere.
Named after the expedition leader, the mystery was dubbed the Dyatlov’s Pass incident.
I first saw this story about the real expedition on some H2 documentary, and had thought it would make a killer story, so thanks Harlin for beating me to it. In this film, Harlin sets it up around a crew of five filmmakers and their outdoorsmen guides retracing the steps of the original nine who died, to try to get to the root of what really happened on that mountain. And there are a lot of good things in this movie, but a couple that rubbed me wrong.
First, it’s a “found footage” film, which is so overdone now that I groan a little every time I see a new trailer with shaky, night vision camera. Second, the premise involves an overly ambitious female filmmaker pushing the group to stay and take risks even when things seem to be going very, very wrong, and creating conflicts with other group members.
Sound familiar? Can you say “Blair Witch Project” in the mountains of Russia? I know there’s no such thing as an original idea, but the obvious parallels kept bugging me. I also noted some resemblance to the creatures in “Quarantine,” but it wasn’t so bad I couldn’t live with it.
But despite that (and a few less than stellar turns at directing in his past), Harlin knows how to spin and how to film a good story, and the cast of low profile actors adds to the believability.
Which brings me to the most important question of any horror film…. is it scary? Without giving too many spoilers away, yes, the film is very effective and scary at times, which makes me wish even more that Harlin had just gone for a straight narrative film instead of all the clunky “let me set the camera down in a way it can film us to keep the story going” moments.
Dear Hollywood directors: Just shoot a damn movie already, without “found footage” gimmicks. It’s so over. Dead. Done. Kaput. Move on.
“Devil’s Pass” is worth watching despite the gimmick, and here’s a hint if you go see it, with a bit of a spoiler, so don’t read on if you hate that kind of thing:
Be sure to pay attention to what’s going on in the background when they are filming. Just saying.