In 1959, nine Russian skiers vanished and were then found dead (with injuries and radiation all up in their ass) in the northern Ural Mountains of Russia (this really happened BTW). In present day, a group of College snots decide to tap them same Mountains to do a documentary. All in the name of finding out what truly happened to them skiers (yeah that part is fiction). Needles to say, they just should have hit their local Pub, got sloshed and tried to get laid instead. Would have made for a more "fun" adventure.
I’ve been following Renny Harlin’s
career since the beginning. He first caught my attention when I was a wee Arrow with Born American (1986) and he then kept it via his fine horror film Prison (1988), starring no other than a young Viggo Mortensen. He broke out big on the scene with the money maker A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) after that.
What followed was Harlin’s best work IMUO (in my useless opinion): Die Hard 2 (1990), The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990), Cliffhanger (1993), The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) and Deep Blue Sea (1999). Alas the man lost me after Driven in 2001 (yes I dug it, sue me) and the underrated Mindhunters (2004), with the sad sack The Covenant (2006) and the criminally meh Twelve Rounds (2009). And I haven’t seen a Harlin movie since… until now.
When I heard that Harlin was tackling the found footage subgenre with his latest flick The Devil’s Pass
(also known as the The Dyatlov Pass Incident), I was excited yet I found it to be a bit of an odd move for the lad. As opposed to say Barry Levinson (who broke out of his more restrained visual mold to make the found footage effort The Bay
), Harlin is best known for mucho stylized visuals, a trait that goes against the whole found footage motif. But hey man, its Harlin, I’m a fan and was ready, willing and able to be dragged back in his corner again. So did he win the fight? Read on!
Using the real life 1959 mishap that paved the way to all kinds of Urban Legends (aliens were behind it, or it was Russian scientists doing some wild experiments etc.), The Devil's Pass started off right. It used a compelling event as its springboard and then did its own warped thing.On the upside, Harlin hasn’t lost his keen eye, with his capturing of the main location (the awe inspiring snowy scenery, which he had wrestled before in Cliffhanger among other films) being the highlight. The mountains, the snow, the vast sky, shite, we even get the Northern Lights (I so have to see those soon), I wanted to be there! Although this was supposed to be a found footage movie, more often than none it didn’t look like one. The cinematography was sharp and for the first hour or so, it wasn’t handy cam madness either. We had beautiful and well framed shots. I actually forgot that I was watching a found footage movie and I think Harlin forgot he was making one too. So the positive out of that was that I didn’t puke in my lap, the negative was; if you’re gonna do a found footage movie, do one, or don’t. There is no in between, which was the card Harlin slammed down. On that, I will give the movie this, the chain of events was engaging to some degree and kept my attention, if not too reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project. Now that think of it, this flick WAS Blair Witch but in the snow (right down to them waking up to odd shit at their campsite). At least nobody “kicked that f*cking map” out of there. But I digress. So I was in there, the mystery had me going and the flick eventually scored some hefty points via its final reveal; a pretty damn cool idea! So what went wrong?
Well for starters I didn’t warm up to the characters. They didn’t feel “real” to me, and aside from the lead chickadee (The oh so spankable Gemma Atkinson. I never would have guessed she was also THIS GIRL.
Where were them HUGE cans in the movie!? Come on Renny! You going soft on me bro? ;) they were all fairly one-note and forgettable. I’m not sure if it was the dialogue, the acting, or both, but this lot did nothing for me. Unlike Blair Witch, I really didn’t buy that what I was watching could be “found footage” hence the intended “reality” of the film did not work on me. So that of course affected the fear factor or lack of. Dumb moves to serve the plot were on hand too. As per most found footage movies these two thoughts did pop in my head a couple of times: 1- Who’s filming again? 2- Why the f*ck are you still filming? Finally, the last 20 minutes got pretty interesting and failry intense but unfortunately Harlin went into full shaky cam mode (i.e. I couldn’t see shit) and the CGI in the house was a tad shoddy. I could have forgiven the so-so CG if I was able to ENJOY the action that was unraveling onscreen. I wasn’t. The story had finally stepped up its game and I couldn’t take it in… f-ing frustrating. So as the end credits rolled, I won’t lie to ya, I was happy it was all over.
So overall, Devil's Pass could make for a decent time killer, but then again so does some Baby Oil and playing with yourself. I was hoping for a glorious return to the horror genre for Renny Harlin and I didn’t get it. So you gonna pass on this Devil or give it a whirl?
Light blood and a quick glimpse of a cut off hand (Or was it arm?). Gore was not this one's game.
Holly Gross almost showed us her "hollies" but Mr. Harlin found it wise to interrupt the scene before the melons were out of the bag. "Newman!"
DEVIL’S PASS chose a pretty intriguing real life story as its base, which to this day is still an enigma (go read about it online, scarier than the film itself). It also had a somewhat gripping chain of events (very Blair Witch like thought), jaw dropping snow laced scenery and a groovy reveal at the end. But sadly, the characters did jack and shit for me, the scares were non existent, dumb moves to serve the plot surfaced and took me out, the movie often didn’t come off as a found footage affair visually (which hurt the illusion of it all) and although the ending jacked up its stakes, I couldn’t see most of the going-ons hence was not able to fully lap it up. I haven’t given up on Renny Harlin though; he’s still young enough and the man has put out too much greatness in the past for me to do so. Till his TRUE horror comeback kicks in, I’ll watch Prison, Deep Blue Sea and Mindhunters again!
IFC will release the film in select theaters and on cable VOD, as well as digital platforms (including iTunes and SundanceNow) on August 23rd.
Gemma Atkinson will next be seen in Night of the Living 3D Dead (2013) as Barbara.
This was Vikram Weet's first produced screenplay.
Renny harlin's next flick will be Hercules 3D (2014) starring Kellan Lutz and Scott Adkins.