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A group of teens travel to a cabin deep in the woods of the Sierra Nevada Mountains for your typical ski weekend. As things would have it, this area is known as Donner Pass, where in 1846 the Donner Party became lost while emigrating to California and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Coincidentally, the group of teens end up in a nasty blizzard while at the cabin. Then one of them turns up dead and half eaten. Cue the panic button.
Of all the historical incidents in the United States, the ill-fated expedition of the Donner Party seems to get the most attention when it comes to movie makers. Be it inspiration or just re-enactments, the idea of cannibalism is almost always an instant horror go-to. Enter actress/director Elise Robertson with writer R. Scott Adams deciding to take the Donner Party tragedy and use it for the basis of their indie slasher.
Production-wise, I have to hand it to the Robertson and her crew for putting together something that belies the film's indie origins. Being able to handle shooting well in a blizzard will do that. Also nice is the sound design, which helps to sell the isolation and the unsettling atmosphere of the cabin. Stefan Girardet's appropriately haunting score also helps get the tension up.
As far as the acting goes, certain actors did a better job than others. Desiree Hall (of MTV's Teen Wolf) turns in a fairly standard performance. Namely, it's what you'd expect for a film like this. The obvious stereotypical asshat characters are reserved for most of the male cast, and therefore wear the obvious "Kill Me" signs. Think of it as sort of a return to the female empowerment thing that 80s slashers explored from time to time.
The greatest compliment and the harshest critique I have for DONNER PASS is that it's just okay. It's not the worst indie slasher, but it's not the best. Adams' script follows the prototypical slasher formula without much deviation. You know who ends up dead and who doesn't and so on. Along the way, there are a few moments where there's been a bit of thought that's been put into dialogue, plot twist or bloodshed to break up the formula a bit. Fans of indie fare will want to check it out for variety's sake, and the rest of us may find the isolation aspect of this slasher to be fun for a viewing.
Nothing official, but what's included is an 18-minute Making-Of featurette that does the job of promoting the film as well as looking behind the scenes with cast and crew interviews.
Also included is On Set With Horror Icon John Kassir, which takes a look at Kassir's role in the film (he was the voice behind the Cryptkeeper on Tales From The Crypt, by the way), as well as joking around with the cast and crew.
The Makeup & FX Secrets of Donner Pass has makeup artist Ralish Khan talking about the film's effects and how he got started in the business.
The film's trailer is also included.
Fairly pedestrian but with a few twists added to it, DONNER PASS is worth a look for the genre crowd. It's not the second coming of any of the classic slashers, but it's worth it to see the skill put into the film.