In the Winter of 1959, nine ski-hikers went missing in the Ural Mountains in Russia. Their bodies were eventually found. At first glance, you might think that this was a case of the group getting lost and ultimately facing their doom out in the freezing wilderness. Upon closer inspection of their remains, there were some strange findings indeed. They were all in different states of decay with bruising to their bodies, and the suggestion that whatever the cause, they fled the relative comfort of their tents in such a hurry, they didn’t dress appropriately for the sub-freezing temperatures outside. Even more bizarrely, one of the party was missing their tongue. In addition to the expected exposure to dangerous weather, investigators suggested that radiation may also have been a contributing factor, but have concluded that there was no foul play.
This incident soon became known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident (also the international title of the film) and became embedded into legend and lore – with tales of the cause of their demise ranging from the extraterrestrial or paranormal, to Yetis.
Whatever the cause may have been, the film Devil’s Pass is based on a true story.
The film itself is your average 'found footage' fare that attempts to explain what happened to the Dyatlov Group, as they came to be known. Naturally, when you try to get to the bottom of such a mysterious case of multiple death in an extremely hostile environment, you call in a bunch of college students.
This is what happens when a Psychology student decides that they want to unravel the 50 year-old mystery, so she gathers up her team and they all head out to the snowy Ural Mountains to investigate – whilst filming the entire experience, of course.
As the film progresses, mysterious events happen; including finding footprints surrounding their campsite, coming under fire from the locals, and exploding mountain goats. It doesn’t take too long to realise that this group of investigators should pack, turn around and go home. They simply are not cut out to deal with the Russian wilderness.
Being the determined bunch that they are, they press on with trying to find out what happened there 50 years previously. From here on, the film turns into a vehicle for conspiracies about time-travel and government cover-up – and that’s before we are even introduced to the… well, I won’t spoil it for you. Let’s just say that there was a lot of groaning – and it was not coming from the television speakers.
In terms of the locations, the scenery is stunning at times. The acting on the other hand, isn’t. Some of the dialogue is quite bad in its delivery and some of the emotional displays were quite cringe-worthy. Luke Albright and Gemma Atkinson – whose previous acting roles include parts in UK television and short films – offer the more solid performances. You get the feeling that this is not really the fault of the cast, but more an issue with the script that they were acting from. This is all the more surprising when you realise that Renny Harlin (Exorcist: The Beginning, Mindhunters, Deep Blue Sea, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4) is on directing duties here.
There are other issues with the script apart from the dialogue. The narrative is just plain silly at times, and although this film leans on the tired old concept of ‘found footage’ film - a concept first introduced to mainstream horror cinema way back in 1999. It does not even attempt to offer a unique twist or fresh approach that other ‘found footage’ films (Troll Hunter, [Rec]) have at least tried to do since the success of The Blair Witch Project. It also begs the question of how the footage was found to begin with?
Harlin shows good technique in not trying too hard to make the viewer feel as though “you are there” with vomit-inducing shaky-cam. Some scenes are better than what you would expect from the overall feel of the film - One scene in particular is about ten minutes of creepy tension that the audience should really enjoy.
The film does offer some surprises along the way which will catch you out, but ultimately it treads way too closely in the (snowy) footsteps of The Blair Witch Project. It takes the viewer out of the Burkittsville woods and puts them in the Russian wilderness instead. This may have been acceptable ten years ago, but the modern horror audience has seen this kind of film more times than they care to remember, and would probably be more forgiving if something truly unique was contributed here.
Devil's Pass is available to buy now on UK DVD.
Review: Devil's Pass
By Andreas Charalambous - 23rd October 2013