a zoo in hell


Devil's Pass (2013)


Remember "Exorcist: The Beginning" ? Perhaps "Cutthroat Island"? How about "Nightmare on Elm Street 4"? When you remember them, are you awash in the sublime afterglow left by a tryst with cinematic mastery? Do you think "Wow, Renny Harlin is the most successful Finnish Hollywood filmmaker in history for a REASON!"

Do you, really? Wow. I was being facetious. For quite awhile Renny Harlin was the icon for everything that was bad in Hollywood filmmaking. Bloated productions, inane plots, tone deaf direction and relentless ego fueled by hair care products were his trademarks. Then along came Uwe Boll, Paul W.S. Anderson and SyFy to really put that into perspective. The depths are bottomless.

So I picked this one up, planning a hearty evening of beer drinkin' and Renny mockin' to bring back the good old days. Things started out looking pretty good, just like the old times, when I realized this was a goddamn found footage film about a group of young filmmakers. I can think of nothing that would interest me less in a genre film.

Then there was some UFO researchers and it got a little interesting, and then there was a bunch of stuff that looked like they could be some cut scenes from "Grave Encounters". Then, 30 minutes later, they actually got to the Devil's Pass, and then I actually put down the beer for a bit.

There's a sweet spot in this film of about 45 minutes when it is actually unnerving and creepy. Once this hapless group of filmmakers uncovers the first of several strange facts in the case of the Dyatlov expedition (See what I did there?), the whole thing gets really interesting. Screenwriter Vikram Weet even manages to work in a "Philadelphia Experiment" call-back. However, just as I was wondering if something happened to Renny Harlin in maturity that he lacked in his youth, the really bad CGI animated monsters were featured in close-up. These effects make "Warm Bodies" look like Oscar material. To be fair, the beings in question, looked really cool when they were in the background or in shadow. Not close-up. You know how they decided to keep the Xenomorph in the background because it looked to ridiculous next to the characters? Or how they kept Bruce's (Jaws) screen time to a minimum because it didn't move quite right? I don't think Renny remembers.

I can't decide if Harlin and company destroyed what could've been an awesome movie or if there was a brief flash of what got Renny to Hollywood in the first place. This film is full of puzzles.

T.A. Wardrope