I never know when something I’ve just discovered is going to snag my interests. I have no set criteria for these essays. They can be about any subject. Books, movies television, art, people, or objects nothing is banned from being included here. As far as that goes timeframe isn’t relevant either. As long as it’s new to me in so abstract way it can make it onto this list. Basically if it strikes my fancy I’ll showcase it.
That’s my way of saying don’t bust my balls.
So with that out of the way on to this installment.
It’s Fall and that means two things in the Hilden household. The first is my middle daughter engrossed in the high school play season, this year she is playing the gender flipped Mrs. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. The second is the transformation of our home into a 24/7 horror movie cinema.
I love horror, bet you couldn’t have guessed that. What I bet you wouldn’t have guessed considering my passion for the zombie genre is my undying commitment to the found footage genre.
Get that look off your face, no I haven’t lost my mind!
Let’s take a moment and rewind to 1999.
In that year a little movie called The Blair Witch Project was released. The roll out of this flick had more than a few people convinced the story of three filmmakers lost in the forests of Maryland was real. There were folks all across the country who thought the footage was genuine. This was further reinforced by the brilliant fake documentary the then young Sci-Fi network put out. If you weren’t around or paying attention that year I need to tell you it was a fucking cultural phenomenon.
I love that movie.
But tell the truth and shame the devil. I will admit it has its flaws. The movie is a product of its times and budget. Blair Witch is far from a perfect example of the found footage genre, for many years I’ve considered George Romero’s flick Diary of the Dead as the best of the bunch.
I continued to think that right up until last weekend.
Last Sunday I was skimming through Netflix looking for something new to satiate my palate. I nearly settled on Insidious 2, good scary movie by the way, but instead clicked on a little flick I’d never heard of before…
Five college students set off to find out what happened to the nine skiers who mysteriously died in the Dyatlov Pass incident. Holly and Jensen are co-directors, J. P. and Andy are expert climbers, and Denise is the sound engineer. After the film introduces the characters, Russian-language news discusses the students' disappearance. The Russian government recovers video footage but refuses to release it to the public; hackers release the footage, which forms the rest of the film.
In Russia, the students first try to contact a member of the initial expedition who turned back after the first day. However, the man has been hospitalized following a nervous breakdown. The administrators at the hospital claim that he is dead and attempt to turn away the filmmakers. In an upstairs window, the students see a man they assume to be the survivor; he holds up a sign in Russian and is dragged away by orderlies. At a bar, the students recruit Sergei, who translates the sign as a warning to turn back.
Undeterred, Sergei introduces them to his aunt, Alya, who was part of the original rescue team. She tells them that a machine and eleven bodies were found at the site, not nine, as is commonly reported. The final two bodies had something wrong with them.
At their camp site, Holly hears howling. The next morning, the group notices barefoot prints in the snow that start and stop suddenly. Jensen claims the footprints are from yeti, but the others claim that Holly is messing with them. After hiking further, they again hear howling and find footprints that lead to a weather tower. Inside the weather tower, they find a human tongue. Denise wants to leave, but the others convince her to continue. Jensen reveals that he heard the howling during a bad acid trip that ended with his yelling incoherently about demons. Holly attempts to comfort Jensen by relating that she has had recurring dreams about Dyatlov Pass, which she interprets as fate. As they talk, two white figures in the background move on the hill and disappear without anyone seeing them.
According to their map, the group arrives at Dyatlov Pass too early. J. P. and Andy are further spooked when their navigational equipment malfunctions. Using a Geiger counter, Holly and Jensen are led to a bunker that locks from the outside. The door is already unlocked but frozen shut; they manage to open the door. They return to the camp without telling anyone about the bunker. The next morning, the group wakes to explosions that cause an avalanche. Denise is killed, and Andy suffers a bad fracture.
After they fire a flare, Russian soldiers arrive, kill Andy, and chase the survivors to the bunker. J. P. is shot as they enter, so Holly and Jensen leave him as they explore the bunker. Inside, they discover evidence of teleportation experiments, a dead soldier who is missing his tongue, a camcorder that has footage of their present conversation, and dead bodies stacked in a pile.
J. P. screams, and Jensen and Holly find him under attack by teleporting mutants. The mutants kill J. P. and chase Jensen and Holly into a sealed room. There, Jensen theorizes the tunnel that leads further into a natural cave is a wormhole. Unwilling to starve to death or face the mutants, Jensen and Holly choose to step into the wormhole. Since there are no controls, Jensen suggests that they visualize a nearby destination. Holly suggests the bunker entrance, and they enter the wormhole. In the next scene, the Russian military in 1959 discover two bodies, recover a camcorder, turn away Sergei's aunt Alya, and hang the bodies on meat hooks inside the bunker, which is fully operational and manned. In the final shot, the bodies are revealed to be Holly and Jensen, transformed into mutants.
… sounds pretty generic right?
I will plant my flag on this mountain and declare that of all of the found footage horror movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen more than anyone should have to, that Devils Pass is the best. I am dead fucking serious this movie is excellent.
It’s also awful.
Nothing in this movie should work. The plot is lame, the twist was telegraphed, the characters are cookie cutter, the acting is marginal, and the scares are predictable. By all accounts this should at best be one of my favorite bad movies instead of my new favorite thing. So why does it work?
The sum is greater than all of its parts.
I can’t explain it. I know it sounds like a massive copout but for some reason once you mash all of the subpar and mediocre elements together you get a movie I’ve watched three times in a week. Will it win any awards or be on the best of list of a person with better taste?
You know what though? I don’t care. This movie managed to catch me off guard and work its way into my mind. I loved it and I recommend it to anyone willing to go inside with an open mind. Will it change your life or cure death?
Of course not…