Last time I reviewed the Hollywood remake of The Grudge and, as you might recall, slated it prettily heavily. What makes good horror film doesn’t need to be consistent innovation. That kind of engine could never be in top gear all of the time, so reformulating a genre is a good half measure.
Devil’s Pass (2013) is, in my book, a great example of taking the found footage horror formula, playing with it and adding a twist of sci-fi. Usually that last addendum is enough to make people say ‘nah, it ‘ill be shit’ but it honestly isn’t. And yes, Gemma Atkinson is in it and no I’ve not gone mad.
Firstly, it does what all the great horror films do and gives you purchase into a real world event. In this instance, it’s the Dyatlov Pass incident where nine hikers were found dead in the Ural Mountains. It’s not only a total mystery but a cluelessly unsolved one with plenty of room to play with the facts to create a good fiction.
Secondly, the film has a cast of unknowns playing young university students with all the American hubris that you just know will mean bloodshed. Not only does the audience get it, but with as with all great ensemble horrors, the group is whittled down one by one in increasingly terrifying circumstances.
Thirdly, the film is set in the mountains. I know, I know, I know I can hear you scream ‘but, Blair Witch was set in a sprawling forest of noise and surely that was scarier!’. Yes, it was, but I challenge anyone to watch this and not feel the same sense of dread that they get when they look out over snowy peaks in the middle of the night. It’s such a pure skin environment that you almost wish you were in the woodlands of Witch; it’s deeply unnerving to see everything but hear noises too. It’s a Blair Witch on ice; discovered footage with that haunting naivety of the fourth wall camera monologue that’s just begging for a murder.
Fourthly the plot is actually good. Personally, I think Outcast is a tremendously well-executed film even if Nazi-ghosts sounds shit. Again, it taps into that macabre curiosity we have about human experimentation and Dr Moreau type experiments. Devil’s Pass employs much the same, but only in its second half. What it gets right is having the first have of the film be an exercise in psychological intimidation with the cast picked off in the snowy nights.
Where it trips up is the where pseudo-science descends into a time travel fiction. It’s a crappy payoff, one that lets down an otherwise very scary film. It is however supported by the creatures in the Russian facility that are quite monstrous and reliably horrific, particularly when you find out what they are.
Altogether this is a good popcorn horror to be either a date night flick or a late night scream fest with enough jumps to make you thankful you tuned in. One to check out.