A lot of people really bash the ‘found-footage’ sub-genre, and the hate is often not without its reasons. I myself often find that young filmmakers use the methodology to cheat, both on talent and special effects. There is a multitude of turds out there that have been made by everyone and their brother that don’t do anything at all but give them a reason to say “Hey Ma! I made a movie!” Now that I’ve said that, though, I have to admit; when they’re done at least half-assed well, I like found-footage flicks. Cannibal Holocaust. The Blair Witch Project (the first one, not the hunk-of-ass sequel). Paranormal Activity (well, the original and the third one, at least). Hell, I even found some merit in Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes, and there are countless others I’ve watched; some I’ve really liked, some made me want to lash myself with barbed wire and roll in rock salt. I’ve told you all before; I’m a sucker for bad movies, and I’ve suffered through a LOT of these POV flicks just to find those few that hit the right high points and entertain.
The Devil’s Pass came out of the gate with something I felt was a plus: a name director. Renny Harlin may not be Steven Spielberg, but he’s made a few flicks I’ve enjoyed, and for a found footage film, I was intrigued to see what he brought to the table. Additionally, I’ve read about the true case the film is based on in my meanderings; given these two elements, I figured what the hell? I’ll give this one a shot.
I wasn’t disappointed. Our story begins with a psychology grad student and her conspiracy theorist friend (who’s a graduate film student) setting out with a fat grant check and the blessing of the psych department head to investigate the Dyatlov Pass incident, an actual mystery from 1959 where nine hikers were found dead under mysterious circumstance in remote Russia. The project is to research the psychological strains on the hikers by recreating the experience, albeit with modern equipment and techniques to ensure safety. The pair recruits a sound tech and a couple of experienced hikers/outdoorsmen to their entourage, and set out for northern Russia. The group finds a few cryptic interviewees along the way, and is finally dropped off at the trail-head leading deep into the snowy, foreboding foothills of the Ural Mountains…
…and you’ll have to see it yourself from there. I was impressed with the directions the story took; you have some pseudo-X-Files elements, some Cold War conspiracy ideas…even the abominable snowman gets thrown into the mix at times. The film does a good job of balancing these ideas to where the viewer isn’t sure of what the hell is going on, but you’re interested in finding out.
The film is well-shot, displacing the typical “shaky-cam” headaches with the tenet of “we’re making a documentary” and including a professional photographer in the cast. Now we have a genuine reason for both why it’s being filmed and why it doesn’t induce seizures. The mountainous, wintry setting is beautiful and genuine; you feel cold sitting there watching. The acting was far better than what I’m used to in the genre, and in most cases I was invested in the characters. As I said, the story was engaging; I didn’t get bored as I often do with this type of film. There’s not a lot of gore, but there’s a lot of atmosphere; general creepiness and foreboding as events unfold, giving far more questions than answers. The only complaint I really have is that there’s a little CGI use a couple of times that, although not bad, was still obvious enough to kinda kick me out of the moment. The ending comes with a twist that’s somewhat telegraphed, but still has a little surprise punch for you if you’ve been paying attention.
All in all, I was happy with the movie. It may not be REC, but it beats the living hell out of The Amityville Haunting. I don’t regret giving it a go. If you have even a general interest in the POV, found-footage shtick, you can do a whole lot worse than this one.
My opinion? Give it a chance.