Saturday, January 21, 2012

Donner Pass and What Happens Next?: A Movie Review

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Director: Elise Robertson.

Writer: R. Scott Adams.

The Donner Party was a group of pioneers who took a new path west in the 19th Century. They became trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and relief was difficult because of the Mexican American War. Cannibalism and murder took place during one of the worst snowstorms to hit that region. These tragedies have been recorded in many films including the recent The Donner Party (2009) and even in 1999's Ravenous. In Donner Pass, the legend of cannibalism is still here, but this movie modernizes the legend. A truly innovative independent film, Donner Pass brings the cannibalism and the murder while also bringing a smart little story full of sub-plots and interesting characters.

In this thriller, three friends are invited to a cabin hideaway for a few days of relaxation. The place they choose to let their hair down also has a rich history, the Sierre Nevada Mountains. A group of party crashers increases the cast of characters and the body count. You see, there is an active murderer in the region and he may or may not have a partner. Beware the quiet ones in horror films! The cast dwindles and it becomes clear that not all of the Donner Party survivors are ready to roll over into their graves. A curse then moves from character to character turning the bitchy or the cocky into blood thirsty killers.

The cast of characters in this feature is large. There are lots of minors and central characters and there is some difficulty in identifying who the protagonists are or even the main antagonist, early in the film. R. Scott Adams' first script keeps a lot of the main plot in mystery, but late in the picture Kayley (Desiree Hall) and Mike (Colley Bailey) are the only characters doing any good. Some of that good involves hammer smashes to the face (they had it coming). One of the villains is really more of a misdirection and about the only element this reviewer guessed right was the true killer. Meanwhile, Derek (Dominic DeVore) is dealing with infidelity and Nicole (Adelaide Kane) is coming to terms with a drunken rape the best way she knows how, through more and more killing. Thomas (Eric Stocklin), the host, seems intimidated by the large cast of characters; however, when the chips are down Thomas knows how to the spill the blood as good as anyone else. Other minor characters are just given enough screen time to say hello before being dispatched. Many of the characters are given varying degrees of depth depending on their importance to the story.

Donner Pass is one of the best independent horror films that this reviewer has seen. The music amplifies tense scenes, the script veers when one might expect it to go straight, the story is well written and characters matter. The film is simply more than a slasher film. The use of a curse in the film means that the ending will be open ended and its explanation is interesting. Feeding characters a little bit of blood brings some late thrills as they look to satisfy and unending hunger. The make-up effects are especially well done with bodies showing up with scarred torsos. Simply put, this is a horror film to see.

Donner Pass released on DVD January 17th and this is a film that horror fans need to check out. Full of unpredictable twists and sub-plots, this film left this reviewer often thinking: what the hell is going on? This praise is noteworthy as this reviewer has reviewed hundreds of horror films and few films bring this much spontaneous excitement. See this one now as the movie has released on multiple formats and Donner Pass will satisfy that hunger in each of us to see something truly thrilling.

Overall: 8 out of 10 (multi-layered characters, gory, well written script, many events are simultaneously taking place in the story, an open ending, the directing style could have been slightly more innovative, great film).

Another review of this film at Fear.net (Scott Weinberg):

Donner Pass Reviewed at Fear.net

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