Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Violence/Disturbing Images, and for a Sexual Reference
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Written by: Vikram Weet
Starring: Holly Goss, Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright, Ryan Hawley & Gemma Atkinson
With the exception of two upcoming films (AFFLICTED and THE SACRAMENT), I’d say that the found footage barrel has just about run empty. It’s a point that lots of other critics have been slamming for years (ever since there was a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequel in the works), but I have finally come around to seeing just how much this subgenre needs to be put out of its misery. DEVIL’S PASS isn’t bad, but it’s just a by-the-numbers execution of a promising premise. I could partially blame the excess of similarly styled horror films in the past decade (a.k.a. found footage films).
For those who haven’t heard of DEVIL’S PASS (I’m guessing there’s probably a lot of you out there). This is a movie about a group of documentary filmmakers who trek into dangerous territory (where they don’t belong) to debunk a supernatural mystery and wind up going missing. The footage we’re watching is what has been recovered on their camera equipment. The really interesting thing here is that the supernatural mystery did very much occur. It’s known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident and has remained unsolved to this day. A group of experienced hikers went up to the freezing Russian area known as “Mountain Of The Dead” and were found frozen miles from their campsites sustaining internal injuries (but no appearance of injuries outside their bodies) with a high level of radiation around them. One of them was even missing their tongue. It’s eerie stuff.
The real Dyatlov Pass Incident is guaranteed to give you a few goosebumps, so I recommend that (if you’re interested) reading up on it. You can already smell the potential for a horror film, one that’s found footage no less. It may just a decent film late to the party, but DEVIL’S PASS just feels bland any way you slice it. It’s hard to judge something when you’ve seen it a bunch of other times in better (and lesser) movies, especially since I’d been hearing about the production of DEVIL’S PASS for a while now. This essentially comes off like a more modern and snowbound BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (right down to a disturbing discovery found by one of the camera crew, though it makes more sense given the context of this film).
The most interesting part of DEVIL’S PASS can be attributed to the location. The crew finds themselves dealing with not only supernatural forces and hostile locals, but also the subzero temperatures and avalanches that happen in the mountains. Acting wise, the cast isn’t bad at all. They deliver some pretty silly dialogue that seems to be naturally coming from them, instead of constantly feeling like they’re reading off of cards just out of frame of the camera (like a bunch of other low-grade films I’ve seen in this subgenre).
The finale is where things get both intriguing and frustrating. I wasn’t expecting a clever turn made on the behalf of the screenwriter and I appreciated this surprising development. On the other hand, we see the threat a few times on-screen and the CGI being used is pretty shoddy. I’d be lying if I said that some of the effects work near the end didn’t remind of those awful creations in I AM LEGEND. The final minutes are quite enjoyable and the twist is pretty cool. Solid acting is across the board here too. The problems in DEVIL’S PASS stem from it feeling overly familiar and the cheap looking creatures at the end. Overall, there are good qualities and bad qualities. They even themselves out into a very middle-of-the-road experience.
Seriously, after AFFLICTED and THE SACRAMENT can we just be done with found footage for the next decade?