Film Review: ‘Devil’s Pass’

Devils Pass review

Finnish action specialist Renny Harlin shows fitful signs of life in this found-footage horror pic.

After a solid decade toiling in the lower depths of big-budget misfires (“Driven,” “Exorcist: The Beginning”) and barely released director-for-hire jobs (“Cleaner,” “5 Days of War”), Finnish action specialist Renny Harlin shows fitful signs of life in “Devil’s Pass,” the latest but not the least in the surfeit of found-footage horror pics that have become to today’s B-movie landscape what power-tool-wielding slasher flicks were to the 1980s. The third such “Blair Witch”/”Paranormal Activity” knockoff to arrive in nearly as many weeks (on the heels of the deplorable “Evidence” and the pretty good “Frankenstein’s Army”), Harlin’s low-budget tale of a film crew retracing the steps of a doomed skiing expedition doesn’t cover any new ground, but is made with just enough craft that, were you to stumble upon it late at night during a bout of insomnia, you wouldn’t mind watching through to the end.

Inspired by a real-life case that has, over the decades, grown into a hoodoo-laced old wives’ tale, “Devil’s Pass” offers its own fanciful spin on the 1959 “Dyatlov Pass Incident” (also the title under which the pic is being released internationally), in which nine Russian students on a ski trip across the Ural Mountains were found dead, having apparently fled their tents in the middle of the night, scantily clad, into sub-freezing temperatures. Adding to the intrigue, some of the bodies were badly bruised — one even missing its tongue — but the official investigation concluded that no foul play was involved, only a “compelling natural force.”

In the half-century since, the Dyatlov deaths have proved catnip to conspiracy theorists, who have enhanced the story with salacious and most likely specious details (including supposed radioactive contamination on some of the victims) and claimed it as evidence of everything from a military cover-up to an alien invasion. Now Harlin and tyro screenwriter Vikram Weet sweeten the pot by proposing a possible link between Dyatlov and that undying American military conspiracy/hoax commonly known as the Philadelphia Experiment. And that’s just for starters.

The Dyatlov case is the supposed lifelong obsession of Holly (Holly Goss), a pert U. of Oregon psych student who, together with two film students — conspiracy-minded chatterbox Jenson (Matt Stokoe) and tomboyish audio engineer Denise (Gemma Atkinson) — plans to re-create the doomed expedition for her senior thesis. Which, it seems, the Oregon faculty thinks is a dandy idea. Also tagging along are a couple of seasoned guides in the form of preening alpha jock Andy (Ryan Hawley) and sensitive “Slaughterhouse Five”-reading rich kid JP (Luke Albright, who makes the biggest impression among the cast of newcomers). But no sooner has the pic introduced this lot than it cuts to Russian news footage of their icy corpses being hauled out of the same mountain pass as their predecessors — along with their cameras, the footage from which promptly goes viral thanks to a website ever so subtly named Conspira-leaks.

We then jump back in time to the start of the doomed journey, as seen through the eyes of the eventual victims — which, as in all movies of this ilk, amounts to a long, slow climb toward a hopefully gory/shocking/mildly diverting summit. Arriving in Russia, the crew briefly detours to a mental hospital said to house the one surviving member of the original expedition: Cue creepy old man in a window holding up a warning sign.

When the trek finally gets underway, things almost immediately start to go bump in the night — and sometimes in broad daylight. Is that merely the howling wind, or some sort of haunted ancestral growl echoing across the peaks? And who left those footprints outside everyone’s tents — the ones that abruptly disappear, as if their perpetrator had vanished into thin air? Because Harlin is a good technician and doesn’t overdo the you-are-there, shaky-cam pyrotechnics (there are supposed to be film students at the helm, after all), such scenes are slightly more bearable than they have any right to be. But even Harlin can’t figure out a way to make sudden video glitches and audio dropouts seem any scarier at this point than a creaking door in an old-fashioned analog horror pic.

When Salome does drop the proverbial seventh veil, during an extended sequence set inside a mysterious mountainside bunker, “Devil’s Pass” ekes out 10 minutes or so of mildly creepy tension, enhanced by some nifty creature effects and a few well-timed goosings of the audience’s nervous system. It’s cheesy enough fun while it lasts, but in the Harlin pantheon, it isn’t a patch on “Deep Blue Sea.” Then again, few things are.

Film Review: 'Devil's Pass'

Reviewed online, Berlin, Aug. 21, 2013. Running time: 96 MIN. Original title: "The Dyatlov Pass Incident"

Production

(U.K.-Russia) An IFC Films (in U.S.) release of an Aldamisa Entertainment presentation of an Alexander Rodnyansky/Non-Stop Prods./Midnight Sun Pictures/K. Jam Media production with the support of The Russian Cinema Fund. Produced by Alexander Rodnyansky, Sergei Bespalov, Sergey Melkumov, Kia Jam, Renny Harlin. Co-producer, Nikki Stanghetti. Executive producers, Jacob Pechenik, David Bergstein, Boris Teterev, Mark C. Manuel. Co-executive producers, Russell Gray, Natalya Kotkova.

Crew

Directed by Renny Harlin. Screenplay, Vikram Weet. Camera (color, RED Digital Cinema), Denis Alarcon Ramirez; editor, Steven Mirkovich; music, Yuri Poteyenko; music supervisors, Mary Ramos, Holly Adams; production designer, Fedor Saveliev; set decorators, Konstantin Semin, Vladimir Kostyuk, Dmitrij Eskin; costume designer, Varya Avdyushko; sound (Datasat/Dolby Digital), Rostislav Almov; supervising sound editor/sound designer, Christopher S. Aud; re-recording mixers, Gregory H. Watkins, J. Stanley Johnston; visual effects supervisor, James McQuaide; visual effects, Digital District, Celluloid Visual Effects, Furious FX, Look Effects; creature design, Aaron Sims Company; stunt coordinator, Victor Ivanov; assistant director, Mary Ellen Woods; casting Suzanne M. Smith

With

Holly Goss, Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright, Ryan Hawley, Gemma Atkinson. (English, Russian dialogue)

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  1. It lovely am waiting to wash d firm

  2. Reblogged this on HORROR BOOM and commented:
    “Devil’s Pass” premiered at Film4 Frightfest this morning, and the reviews have been mixed. We keep getting stuck on the fac that this WAS based on an actual incident, one that’s pretty creepy. Here’s what we found when we looked up the facts: (Source: Wikipedia)
    The Dyatlov Pass incident generally refers to the mysterious deaths of nine ski hikers in the northern Ural mountains on the night of February 2, 1959. The incident happened on the east shoulder of the mountain Kholat Syakhl (Холат-Сяхыл) (a Mansi name, meaning Dead Mountain due to lack of game, not “Mountain of the Dead” as some suggest). The mountain pass where the incident occurred has since been named Dyatlov Pass (Перевал Дятлова) after the group’s leader, Igor Dyatlov (Игорь Дятлов).
    The lack of eyewitnesses has inspired much speculation. Soviet investigators simply determined that “a compelling natural force” had caused the deaths.[1] Access to the area was barred for skiers and other adventurers for three years after the incident.[2] The chronology of the incident remains unclear because of the lack of survivors.[1][3]
    Investigators at the time determined that the hikers tore open their tent from within, departing barefoot into heavy snow and a temperature of −30 °C (−22 °F). Although the corpses showed no signs of struggle, two victims had fractured skulls, two had broken ribs, and one was missing her tongue.[2
    A legal inquest started immediately after finding the first five bodies. A medical examination found no injuries which might have led to their deaths, and it was concluded that they had all died of hypothermia. Slobodin had a small crack in his skull, but it was not thought to be a fatal wound.
    An examination of the four bodies which were found in May changed the picture. Three of them had fatal injuries: the body of Thibeaux-Brignolles had major skull damage, and both Dubinina and Zolotarev had major chest fractures. According to Dr. Boris Vozrozhdenny, the force required to cause such damage would have been extremely high. He compared it to the force of a car crash. Notably, the bodies had no external wounds, as if they were crippled by a high level of pressure. Dubinina was found to be missing her tongue.[2] There had initially been some speculation that the indigenous Mansi people might have attacked and murdered the group for encroaching upon their lands, but investigation indicated that the nature of their deaths did not support this thesis; the hikers’ footprints alone were visible, and they showed no sign of hand-to-hand struggle.[2]
    OK…but where did the one woman’s tongue go? It was GONE. No wonder so many conspiracy theories have sprung up about the incident. The film students in “Devil’s Pass” really are asking for the evidence project they’re working on to turn up later on as found footage.

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