DEVIL'S PASS Weaves One Too Many Conspiracies Into An Already Fragile Found-Footage Web!
Dec 30, 2013
Here’s your warning, folks: I tend to enjoy those ‘found footage films’ more than most. I offer than disclaimer so that you understand entirely where I’m coming from, especially given the fact that audiences turned on this particular sub-genre of horror quite a long time ago. Despite that fact, I still happily give them a spin. I’m more than happy to endorse what good there’s still in them, and I’m equally pleased to warn you when to stay away from them. That said, it’s hard to find much to celebrate in the relatively tepid DEVIL’S PASS – it’s a story I desperately wanted to like (but alas didn’t), though if you hang with me after this brief break I’ll be thrilled to explain why.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
I’m borrowing what I need from the back of the product packaging as it gets to the heart of the story: “In February of 1959, nine Russian hikers ventured into a remote area of the Ural Mountains. Two weeks later, all of them were found dead. What happened is a mystery that has baffled investigators and researchers for decades. It has become known as the Dyatlov Pass incident.”
That above is a true event, and pretty much what the copy writers wrote is adequate. There have been various explanations offered throughout the years – yes, I’m a bit of a conspiracy nut, and I’ve followed them – but none of them have ever been quite convincing to say the least, and that’s where DEVIL’S PASS mines fertile ground. The ‘found footage’ element here is that five College students receive grant money in order to recreate a modern investigation into the event; at the outset of the film, it’s explained on a news reel that these college kids have disappeared, and then the audience is “treated” to the footage that’s been discovered from their cameras as a feature film.
The problem with all of this is that … well, I really can’t say without spoiling the ending. I won’t do that – I try to avoid it at all costs when I can – but let me offer this simply: given what the film tells us what their fate was, the footage couldn’t possibly exist, nor would it even conceivably be available for some hacker to find … because, if it was, then the film wouldn’t even be necessary. It’s a failure of narrative logic, one that probably killed this thing from getting any respectable theatrical release, and that’s probably why it’s been unceremoniously dumped into its home video release. At best, the rest of the story here (the script is by Vikram Weet) isn’t all that interesting, much less revelatory given the expose quality of it, and too many story elements have to be supplied as exposition from one of the main characters in order for these particular events to have any meaning.
Think of it this way: imagine there was a found footage film involving Adam and Eve, and imagine that the only way Eve knew what she was supposed to do is that she’s repeatedly told by Adam’s third-wheel-friend Dave who shows up just in the knick of time to tell her. “Eve, it’s time for you to go and see the snake!” “Eve, it’s time for you to take a bite out of the Apple!” “Eve, it’s time for you to understand what you weren’t supposed to understand!” After a while, it would get old, not to mention almost laughable; so when one character has to explain the events of Dyatlov Pass (a conspiracy) by involving what may or may not have gone down with The Philadelphia Experiment (another completely unrelated conspiracy), I did catch myself laughing.
Remember: I freely admitted loving conspiracies. And found footage films. I just hate to see both of them them handled so ineptly.
Also, our lead actress? Holly Goss? She plays Holly King. FYI: she can’t act. I’d hate to think this was the result of a casting couch decision, but, given her limited range? My mind can’t help but wonder.
Still, DEVIL’S PASS is not without a handful of successful storytelling moments. It has a few nice twists, and there’s some pleasant enough cinematography in here that one can easily tell this wasn’t some found camcorder flick pieced together by amateurs with a camera. The bottom line is that the good stuff is far too spread out and watered down – with so much gibberish sprinkled in between – that they end up having little tension. Once the real scary stuff starts, it’s easy to remember that “it’s just a movie” and forget about it.
DEVIL’S PASS (2013) is produced by IFC Midnight, Aldamisa Entertainment, Non-Stop Productions, and a few others (feel free to consult IMDB if you’re all that interested). DVD distribution is being handled by MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications, the film is smartly put together, with some terrific sight, sound, and effects work to bring it all to life. Kudos to IFC for finally getting a release’s special features right: this disc comes with a commentary by Harlin and producer Kia Jam as well as some deleted scenes, a nice making of short, and the theatrical trailer.
(HARD TO) RECOMMEND, but, if you’re a fan of ‘found footage films’ then this one might still be worth a view. At 100 minutes, it’s decidedly too long – especially given the narrative flaw of the ending and the fact that much of the camera trickery has been done before – but has moments of legitimate X-Files-type inspiration. It’s just too bad it couldn’t have been more fulfilling; bad acting will never save a twist-ending, no matter how stirring the direction. Renny Harlin has really fallen off the map if this is the best he can muster.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folkst at IFC MIDNIGHT and MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of DEVIL’S PASS by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.