Monday, December 30, 2013

Travel The Devil's Pass at Your Own Peril: A Movie Review

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*full disclosure: a DVD screener of this film was provided by IFC Films.

Director: Renny Harlin.

Writer: Vikram Weet.

Cast: Holly Goss, Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright, Ryan Hawley and Gemma Atkinson.

The Devil's Pass aka The Dyatlov Pass Incident is a found footage film from director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2). This title takes on a non-fiction event, the death of nine Russian hikers, and turns it into fiction, with the introduction of time travel. Five American characters and documentarians grate on the nerves, while the film struggles to build speed and tension. The Devil's Pass is just another average found footage film, in this overcrowded sub-genre.

The story begins with five American university students. They are all really excited! to travel to the Ural Mountains, in Russia. Here, they hope to unravel a fifty year old mystery: the death of nine experienced hikers. These hikers were found mostly naked, after a possible avalanche. The students find a doorway into a non-descript hill (60 minutes later) and some denizens come out of the dark. This story is fairly simple in its premise.

The characters do not help with the creation of intrigue or thrills. The five primary characters: Holly (Holly Goss), Jensen (Matt Stokoe), JP (Luke Albright), Andy (Ryan Hawley) and Denise (Gemma Atkinson) are also given little background. Basically, there is very little behind the veneer of smiles and faux confidence. Instead, these are flat characters whose arguments and petty rivalries come across as very false. Their inter-group conflict is petty and the characters are mostly unlikable. They are not a joy to watch.

In the meantime, the film's story develops very slowly. There is no initial hook to draw viewers in. Conflict does not arise until the fifty-five minute mark, via an avalanche. By this time, one's patience may be waning. Still, at the seventy minute mark the film finally finds some legs. So, the slow development and minor plot points do develop into something. But, the climax is over in a flurry of action elements, which are mostly CGIed. There is a mystery and a reason for the students to be in those hills, searching for something. The climax and reveal might not be a big enough payoff for most watchers.

There are a few commendable film elements in Devil's Pass. The film utilizes a couple of stellar settings: a snowy landscape and an immense underground bunker. These settings, especially the latter one, create some interest. As well, the shooting is mostly well done. There is a choreography in the scene transitions, which is a little more complex than the average film. Still, the acting is only so-so and conflicts are only partially developed. There is little to no tension through early scenes and the film does not pickup until the final thirty minutes. Much of the film is slowly paced and a bit of a drag to watch.

Devil's Pass will only be for the most devout found footage fans. Others will find this outing very average in story development and characterizations. More conflict and action could have been introduced much earlier. As well, the film does not seem to be a horror film, until the final few minutes and that is a shame. More scares could have been introduced earlier to hook the viewer's attention. Overall, Devil's Pass is a frosty time spent with some grating characters, who get their comeuppance a little too late in the film to create any real excitement.

Overall: 6 out of 10 (slow pacing, intriguing premise, lots of petty arguments).

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