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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 08.22.13] thriller

The real facts surrounding the so called "Dyatlov Pass incident" are the type that inspire legends. In February of 1959, a group of skiers mysteriously died on the Ural mountains, a mountain range in Russia. With no survivors, details of what happened are scarce and though Soviet investigators determined that the hikers died of natural causes, their findings failed to explain why the hikers ripped their way out of their tents in the middle of the night into -30 degree weather, why two of them suffered from fractured skulls, two from broken ribs and most astonishingly, one was missing her tongue. As if that's not strange enough, the mountain has long been referred to as Dead Mountain due to the fact that there are no animals in the area so it's not like some hungry mountain goat came searching for food.

No one knows what happened but speculation has ran the gamut from secret military research to extraterrestrial activity and first time writer Vikram Weet offers up his own ideas in Devil's Pass (previously The Dyatlov Pass Incident).

The movie follows a team of documentary filmmakers from the US who travel to Russia in search of their own answers. They're led by Holly, a bright and friendly type who seems to be the one in charge of the team, making sure the filmmakers and the guides stay on track, something which is hard from the get go. They arrive in Russia in one piece but before they even get to the mountain, things go south. The locals are generally tight lipped about the incident and when they finally find someone willing to talk he comes across as a little creepy but the first part of Devil's Pass trucks along with few incidents. It's when the crew get into the hike that things get weird. Fast.

The details of the story may be different but this is the closest a found footage movie has come to The Blair Witch Project in some time. Even the way the story unfolds feels like it borrows heavily from the now classic Blair Witch and though people might groan, the truth is that director Renny Harlin has a knack for taking mediocre material which could have stopped another director's career dead in its tracks and making it enjoyable. His magic is at work here because Devil's Pass is really fun to watch. It's never really scary but it's intense and an effective thriller. Though details of the mystery are parsed out regularly, it's not clear what theory they're going with until the final ten or fifteen minutes.

Some will groan at the found footage "gimmick" but Harlin and Russian cinematographer Denis Alarkon-Ramires use the framing device to great effect. We never know more than the characters do, there's very little in the way of shaky cam, the use of night vision actually makes sense and perhaps most importantly, what effects there are are seamlessly married to the footage and don't stick out like a sore thumb.

There are a few problems with the movie, namely the dialogue (which is occasionally eye rolling) and the acting (which starts off cardboard flat but does improve as the movie progresses) don't detract from the overall entertainment value of Devil's Pass. It may not be new but it's darn entertaining.

Devil's Pass opens in limited release and on VOD Friday, August 23rd.

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Digger (8 years ago) Reply

Just watched it, the end...30 minutes more or less makes up for the 60 minutes of the beginning. Very chilling at the end. Happily surprised.

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