Friday, December 6, 2013

The Devil's Pass

The Devil’s Pass (2013) aka The Dyatlov Pass Incident
Dir. Renny Harlin
Written by Vikram Weet
Starring Holly Goss, Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright

What we got here is a cheerfully absurd, unselfconsciously idiotic little found-footage clusterfuck from Renny Harlin*, the Finnish madman who taught us that although it’s rare, sharks can and do sometimes explode. As you know, I’m none too keen on this sort of found footage debacle, but when I heard that Harlin was taking the helm, I knew I had no choice but to watch it. After all, this is the guy who broke Christian Slater in half in MINDHUNTERS. The guy who demonstrated that L. L. Cool Jay is too tough (literally) to be eaten, even by superintelligent exploding sharks. The man who felt that “DIE HARDER” was an appropriate subtitle. How the fuck is he gonna do the found footage thing?

Well, I’m happy to report that Harlin understands the concept of “found footage” no better than he understands the concept of “physics does not allow for that snowmobile to leap over huge explosions,” so he makes it about equally ridiculous to all his other films, just a bit uglier because the cameras are cheaper. He doesn’t seem to quite understand that “found footage” is trying to imitate reality, or, more likely, he doesn’t understand what reality is anyway. But he does understand that when he makes a movie, he likes to point his camera at cool things when they’re happening, and so that’s what he does here, in defiance of all logic, science, and philosophy. If you are the type of person who would ever yell, or has ever considered yelling, or has ever thought “why the fuck does that guy keep filming instead of dropping the camera and running away,” you’re gonna have to either quietly turn this movie off and go do your taxes or something, or just flip that part of your brain firmly to the “off” position and just enjoy this phenomenally silly ride with a big dumb grin on your face and a bunch of drunk people around you.

In Russia, even snow angels are way more intense.

OK, so this is not a movie which can genuinely be enjoyed on its own merits, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good premise. Actually it has kind of a great premise: the real life extremely creepy incident in which nine experienced Russian hikers fled their camp in various states of undress to die in the cold, motivated by what the official documents refer to as “a compelling unknown force.” This is really true, it really happened, so it is a great premise for a movie, and arguably even a found footage movie. This movie isn’t really about that, though, instead it’s about a group of cheerfully moronic American college youths who hike up to the Dylatov Pass in modern times to try and figure out what became of their 1959 counterparts. Which it turns out had to do with government conspiracies, time travel, zombie alien wallcrawlers, and, what the hell, the Philadelphia Experiment, because in a movie like this you’ve got to go Harlin or go home.

It’s kind of a shame to waste this perfectly fine premise on a movie this ridiculous, but it’s not a total loss. The movie’s biggest weakness is that as a found footage clusterfuck, it’s constitutionally precluded from having any clever dialogue or interesting characters, and without Harlin’s usual flashy camerawork, this means that the first half of the film is pretty dull. These characters are not as aggressively unlikable as lots of found footage victims are, but they’re completely forgettable and their incessant prattle gets tiresome during the unforgivably long time we have to wait for anything to happen.

I'm not sure what that bloody thing on the floor is, if it IS a dick like it sure appears to be, I definitely don't think it belongs to this guy. But to be fair I was pretty drunk when I watched this.
Once it does start happening, though, the movie begins to get pretty entertaining, and pleasingly escalates exponentially in absurdity as things go along. Harlin simply can’t live without framing shots properly, and if that means someone has to apparently be holding a camera steady while climbing the side of a mountain, so be it. It’s uglier than his other films, but it’s significantly less of an eyesore than this genre typically seems to aspire to. That also means, shockingly, that once we come across some monsters with a pretty cool design, we can actually, you know, get a look at ‘em! Imagine that! Directors pointing cameras at things we would want to see, huh? What a concept!

The movie’s 96 minutes probably contain slightly too much fatty setup, but I gotta say, the final 30 minutes are absurd, action packed, and even a little creepy in such a way that you can’t help but walk away from the experience with a smile. Since it barely even pretends to emulate anything vaguely resembling plausibility, it’s less grim than your typical found footage affair, and everything feels playful and stupid rather than gritty and disturbing. I still got no use for this kind of filmmaking, especially since this one seems to succeed most by ignoring the first-person gimmick as much as it’s able to rather than utilizing it to try different things, but at least I’m able to report that Renny Harlin’s essential Renny Harlin-ness is more powerful than any stupid trendy gimmick. Obviously I’d prefer that he stick to better movies --or at least movies that look like real movies-- from now on, but even if that’s too much to ask, it’s at least good to know that this kind of goofball enthusiasm is enough to show you a good time. In his own word: “I don't want accidents, I want disasters. I don't want dirt, I want filth. I don't want a storm, I want a hurricane. I don't want fear, I want panic. I don't want suspense, I want terror. I don't want humor, I want hysteria.” Harlin’s a guy who genuinely believed that more is always more, and as long as he keeps shooting for that goal I’m gonna be happy. Let’s get moving on CUTTHROAT ISLAND 2: CUTTHROATIER ISLAND!**  

* The poster mentions DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER and CLIFFHANGER, they don’t mention CUTTHROAT ISLAND though.

** Alas, not sure that’s gonna happen because this film didn’t seem to really catch on. They claim it was released in August this year, but I can find no evidence that it ever played in US theaters and there’s no record of it on boxofficemojo. It doesn’t even have a wikipedia page! Even RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD has a wikipedia page! I may have to get on this one myself.

  • SEQUEL: No.
  • REMAKE: No.
  • BOOBIES: No.
  • DECAPITATIONS OR DE-LIMBING: No, don't think so.
  • ENTRAILS? ...I honestly don't remember. Don't think so.
  • ZOMBIES: Uh, definitely some kind of zombie type thing, yeah...
  • CURSES: No.
  • (UNCANNY) VALLEY OF THE DOLLS? A rare case where there is a literal valley, but no dolls.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: Uh, don't know, gonna say medium? Didn't get much of a release, if any, but come on, Renny Harlin!

This probably deserves closer to a three, but I honestly enjoyed it for what it was and I'm feeling generous towards it. Don't go in thinking it's gonna be legitimately good, though; this is an ideal stupid one to watch with friends and alcohol.

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