‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’ (1988). ‘The Adventures of Ford Fairlane’ (1990). ‘Die Hard 2’ (1990), ‘Cliffhanger’ (1993). What do all these awesome movies have in common? Finnish director Renny Harlin, that’s ‘what’. Harlin first caught my eye when I snuck into ‘Die Hard 2′ with a buddy (way too young, of course) and was blown away by the man’s gritty yet polished visual style, as well as his command of an action scene. In the span of the four titles listed above, Harlin was poised to take Hollywood by storm. Then…’Cutthroat Island’ happened in 1995. While that bloated pirate-epic wannabe is NOT as bad as people tend to remember, it is accurately noted as one of the biggest box office bombs of the last 30 or so years. Since that debacle, Harlin’s ‘high concept’ quality (and career) diminished noticeably. After not quite ‘pulling in the numbers’ with other high budget chances like ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ (1996) and ‘Deep Blue Sea (1999). Harlin seemed relegated to the Bargain Bin section of Hollywood, pumping out idiotic shit like ‘Driven’ (2001), Mindhunters (2004) and ‘The Covenant’ (2006). I figured that it was pretty much time to write off Mr’ Renny Harlin as a late 80s/early 90s ‘flash in the pan’ director who had probably lost his mojo forever. His films don’t get the big marquee presence that he used to enjoy but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still capable of delivering a satisfying movie experience (see my ‘ 5 Days of War’ review for additional proof). ‘The Dyatlov Pass Incident’ certainly qualifies (for me) as one of THOSE. Using the true, unsolved mystery of 9 mountain climbers who vanished in 1959 in a bleak section of the Ural Mountains in Russia as a ‘springboard’, the flick uses the ‘found footage’ format to tell the story of 5 Americans who endeavor to solve the baffling mystery of the bizarre circumstances that led to the deaths of the earlier 9 Russians, all for the purposes of a video documentary. In THAT regard, this flick very much reminded me of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999), which must be expected as THAT movie is essentially the Godfather of the ‘Found Footage’ genre. And once again…the LESS said about ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ (1980)….the better. The goals and methods of the documentarians / victims are similar, with the 3 guys and 2 ladies here trying to retrace the exact path the doomed Russians had taken, in order to unwisely tempt whatever had befallen the prior climbers, to prove what had caused all 9 to literally tear out of their tent and run at high speed (in socks and bare feet) out into the snow…where they all succumbed to the merciless elements. The big mystery is…what caused all of them to panic to the point of abandoning all training and common sense to flee their shelter SO unprepared. BTW- those points are all true. Which makes the back-story even creepier. It doesn’t take long before strange shit begins to happen to the naturally over-confident Americans. Strange magnetic phenomena has its way with GPS and compasses. Bizarre and unsettling footprints appear in the snow around the camp. High traces of radiation are detected. And then they find something buried in the ice. Renny Harlin has crafted a tight, effective story that is equal parts Historical Mystery, interesting Science Fiction and creepy Horror flick. One of the ingredients that went a long way to help in the film’s delivery (as it always seems to do) is the use of relative ‘unknowns’ in the Lead Roles, with the most famous one possibly being the inexplicably good-looking daughter of not-good-looking man Rowan Atkinson, Gemma Atkinson, as the group’s Sound Tech, Denice. Everyone else ‘steps up’ and delivers serviceable-to-decent performances. Given that this is supposed to be ‘found footage’, there are times when the dialogue sounds a wee bit too ‘structured’, not free-flowing and natural to the point of ‘believability’. There are other times when I bought the performances completely, especially when the shit starts hitting the fan. Speaking of the ‘found footage’, this is another one of ‘those’ where there is a camera conveniently recording EVERYTHING! There were times when it was straining my ‘suspension of disbelief’ with the situations the camera found itself recording in. At least, there are instances where the omnipresent camera is acknowledged, and there are a couple of lines of expository dialogue explaining the mind-set of the primary camera-bearer. Those helped…but didn’t fully explain away the endless filming. Also, the footage, which is supposed to be ‘raw’, is pretty nicely spliced together. These are minor complaints, however. One aspect I found myself really liking was The Ending. There is a clever twist that almost made my skin crawl with the irony and implication of it all. Sure, some cheeky assholes out there will probably pull the ole ‘I saw if coming from a mile away’ bullshit, but it worked on me and worked well. It also changes how you see parts of the film, knowing THAT certain ‘something’ about the 3rd Act. Along with a bit of spotty acting and the abuse of the ‘found footage’ motif, another complaint I’d have to throw out there would be that SOME of the effects for certain characters in the latter portion of the movie were a little too ‘I Am Legend’- like, if you know what I mean. Luckily, the ‘less is more’ idea was put into play for chunks of this one…and they worked. What would’ve been ‘lame and obvious’ in a shot lasting 4 seconds was rendered unsettling and close-to-scary in shots cut to about 2.5 seconds…of which there was a good number. The weird choice of techno music over the end credits was a bit out-of place too…but I got over it. Harlin still knows his shit. All in all, ‘The Dyatlov Pass Incident’ (or ‘The Devil’s Pass’, if you have issue with the original title) was an effective mystery/horror flick that used a real (and really creepy) incident to come up with an interesting take on the ‘found footage’ concept; a take that does come with the need for a lil suspension of disbelief, but also serving up a clever and ambiguous climax. If you want good thriller that’ll keep you invested, this one is worth a shot.
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