“The Devil’s Pass” is a found footage horror film, inspired by the real life Dyatlov Pass incident. This involved a group of nine Russians who went hiking in the Ural mountains in 1959, and died under mysterious circumstances. Over the years possible explanations and conspiracy theories have abounded, ranging from aliens and yeti through to an avalanche. There has been enough mystery surrounding this event over the years to inspire the film makers to use it as a launching pad for their horror movie.

A group of American students decide to travel to the area to make a documentary about the incident. There is a lot of build up with the main student Holly recruiting others to join her on the journey. They travel to the area, and their first task is to try to speak to the survivor, so-called because he had become ill on the hike and left the others early. They discovered he was in a hospital of some kind, and were prevented from speaking to him, though they saw someone they assumed was him holding up a sign in Cyrillic in a window. Later they had someone translate the sign to mean ‘stay away’. There is some early events that illustrate how cold the area is, such as cars being buried in snow and one of the group’s eyelids freezing shut. It is around the thirty minute mark where they hear growls outside their tents while camped, and the next morning find mysterious footprints. Some of the group immediately accuse Holly of having orchestrated these events to jazz up her documentary.

There is a real ‘Blair Witch project’ vibe to all of this. The mysterious sounds and prints, plus the dissension within the group, are all standard tropes of this kind of film, and there is nothing innovative happening. While the cast are doing their best, their characters are relatively uninteresting and on the whole not very likeable. One of the males in particular makes a lot of sexual innuendos and jokes, and ends up sleeping with one of the females (leading to a rather ludicrous scene where they are inside their tent and naked, in that weather!) The character, Andy, apparently likes to sleep with and film women as some kind of macho thing. Holly the documentary maker is pushy and chirpy and, again, not very interesting. The characters are, frankly, quite two-dimensional. So, it is very hard to care about what happens to them.

We are supposed to believe these people are very experienced at what they do. However, when the GPS, compass and other equipment all fail at exactly the same time, would experienced people not think that it might be a good idea to make a strategic withdrawal, at least until you can find out what is wrong with the equipment? No, apparently not. One of the characters, having discovered this, says they should not have reached the site they are looking for so soon – they were still hours away. No, says Holly firmly, I recognize the place, all is well. I think we are supposed to believe that she is too obsessed to think about the implications. Frankly, this just makes her look like a dill. When Holly and Jensen find the door into the mountain (just like in Holly’s dream, cue spooky music), Holly says everyone is nervous, let’s not tell them until morning. Again, I think this is supposed to stress her obsession to not leave, and find out what is going on. But Jensen, prior to this, has not indicated any such obsession. He points out that the door locks from the outside, which indicates they are locking something in, but still acquiesces.  We are supposed to believe he goes along with her because he likes her. Hmm.

So they need to abandon their tents because of an avalanche. Randy Andy is injured, and his sexual partner is killed, thus fulfilling the horror movie cliché that sex gets you killed. So they’re sitting in the open after this avalanche, in just jumpers and no gloves, but suddenly no one is shivering or acting like they are cold. (Remember the cars buried in snow and the frozen eyelids from earlier). Did the film makers just forget it’s supposed to be cold out? The only notable event in this scene is that Randy Andy makes the only intelligent contribution he’s made in the entire movie. When they send up a flare and shortly afterwards two mystery hikers come towards them, it is Andy who notices they have no packs and no rescuers could possibly have reached them in the short amount of time. Andy also, realizing he cannot move with his injuries, tells them to run. Naturally the mystery people open fire on them, killing Andy and wounding JP. So, they run for the only place they can run, the door into the mountain. (JP spits about why they didn’t say anything about the door while they were all sitting there freezing. Remember no one was acting like they were freezing?)

This film rolls on to the train-wreck of its climax. I don’t know who was doing their special effects, but I was wondering if they’d just spliced in some computer-game shoot-em-up instead of actually making something intelligent. Lots of shaky cam, dubious cgi beasties, lots of running around and screaming. It was hard to gain any kind of picture of what was going on. Then the two survivors (RIP JP) are in a room with the door locked, the cgi brigade on the outside, and an equally dubious looking special effect confronting them that seems to be some sort of glowing tunnel. After some jumping to conclusions on little to no evidence, they decide to use the tunnel.

I don’t even want to talk about the solution to this film. It was a ridiculous ending which made very little sense. (I’ll give you a hint – time travel was involved.) What is worse, none of this shed any light (supernatural or otherwise) on the Dyatlov Pass incident.

I don’t mind ‘found footage’ movies, though I will admit they run the entire gamut of quality from abysmal to fantastic. This one is definitely on the lower end of the scale. I might judge it less harshly, except they used a real tragedy where real people died as their launch point. I couldn’t help feeling that it was quite disrespectful to the victims of Dyatlov Pass – if you were going to use it as a basic for a horror movie, couldn’t you have made it a good one?

 “The Devil’s Pass” is not the worst movie I’ve seen. There are some great visuals early on of the snowy landscape of northern Russia. However, it had a pedestrian and unoriginal plot with uninteresting characters and a conclusion that bordered on farcical. I definitely do not recommend this one.

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