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Devil's Pass (2013)
DVD Released: 12/17/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/17/2013
What do Renny Harlin and Barry Levinson have in common? The obvious answer is that besides the fact that they are both established film directors, nothing. Harlin made a splash in the late 80s with action films like Die Hard 2, while Levinson is an Oscar-winning maker of serious dramas. You may not be aware that both directors have recently decided to make the leap into the world of found-footage horror movies. In 2012, Levinson brought us the very creepy The Bay. Now, Harlin has tossed his hat into the ring with Devil's Pass.
In 1959, nine hikers went missing in the Ural mountains of Russia. Two weeks later, all nine were found dead and to this date, there's been no official explanation for what happened, but there are plenty of theories. Holly (Holly Goss), a student at the University of Oregon, gets a grant to make a documentary about the incident. She recruits cameraman Jensen (Matt Stokoe), sound operator Denise (Gemma Atkinson), and experienced hikers JP (Luke Albright) and Andy (Ryan Hawley) to round out her crew. They travel to Russia and make their way to the town where the original expedition began. There, they meet an old woman (Nelly Nielsen) who was part of the search party, who gives them more details. Soon, the quintet is on the snowy trail, with Holly and Jensen documenting everything. At first, everything is fine, but they begin to hear strange noises and experience equipment failures. Soon, they find themselves in very real danger and stumble upon a mystery even greater then the original deaths.
With Devil's Pass, Harlin and Screenwriter Vikram Weet are attempting to put a somewhat original spin on the tired found-footage genre. Yes, other films have used real-life occurrences as a jumping off point, but the Dylatov Pass Incident is a somewhat unique one, if nothing else because it takes place in the snowy wilds of Russia. This gives the film an immediate hook. Also, the fact that a documentary is being made justifies the presence of cameras and the idea that all of the events are recorded -- but, even here, there are times when we think, "Would they really record that?".
We can debate about Harlin's skills as a director, but he's made enough movies to know how to structure a film and Devil's Pass benefits from this. Unlike other movies in this sub-genre (such asEvil Things, Atrocious, and Hollow), things actually happen in this movie and the story moves along at a nice pace. Now, this isn't to imply that the movie is non-stop action, but many, many found-footage movies have the characters simply sitting around waiting for something to happen or running from an unseen force. Here, the characters move along their planned route, until things start getting weird. As they are moving along the trail, we get more information about what happened to the original expedition and there is some character development, both of which help to hold the viewer's attention.
In the third act, Devil's Pass begins to go off of the rails a bit. The story suddenly changes, as some major twists are brought in. I always hate to accuse a movie of being over-written, but very late in the film, Devil's Pass decides to not only introduce some new ideas, but ones which really test the audience's resolve (not to mention their ability to pay attention). Again, Harlin knows his action, and he keeps things moving along in the finale, but it's to the detriment of the story, as we are asked to absorb a lot at once, and it's not until further reflection on the movie that things begin to come together...sort of. Devil's Pass not only throws in a lot of twists at the end, it changes genres and when you really stop and think about it, you'll realize that some pieces fit and some don't.
Despite the off-the-wall ending, I enjoyed Devil's Pass for the simple fact that something was always happening and that the movie made me want to at least read the Wikipedia page on the real-life incident. The movie is far from perfect and Holly's narration becomes annoying at times, but the film deserves points for trying to breath new life into a tired sub-genre. And, kudos to Renny Harlin for trying something different, although I'm sure that he felt at home in the snowy conditions. If you are interested in seeing what people are doing with Blair Witch-like ideas 14 years later, then give Devil's Pass a try.
Devil's Pass made me wonder why anyone would undertake a journey like this on DVD courtesy of IFC Films. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain (even with the snowy white backdrop) and no defects from the source material (other than the intentional video rolling and static). The colors are good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is somewhat soft at times, but otherwise we get good detail and an OK sense of depth. Some of the daytimes shots have notable clarity. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The subwoofer effects work very well, most notably when the snows shifts on the mountain. There is also nice usage of the surround channels, most notably in the scenes where sounds are coming from all around. The stereo effects show good separation and illustrate sounds coming from off-screen.
The Devil's Pass DVD contains only a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Renny Harlin and Producer Kia Jamm. Harlin and Jamm walk us the creation of the movie in "The Making of Devil's Pass" (10 minutes). We also hear from the cast, who talk about the characters and the story. The piece then contains some on-set footage from the film's production. The DVD contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 9 minutes. These are all simply extended versions of scenes from the movie, the last of which contains many more details on the actual incident. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long