Devil’s Pass (2013)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #289

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 23, 2013
Sub-Genre: Supernatural/Mystery
Country of Origin: United Kingdom, Russia
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: Renny Harlin
Producers: Alexander Rodnyansky, Sergei Bespalov, Sergey Melkumov, Renny Harlin, Kia Jam
Screenplay: Vikram Weet
Special Effects: Joe Colwell, Ilya Churinov
Visual Effects: Justin Daneman, Thomas Duval, James McQuaide
Cinematography: Denis Alarcon Ramirez
Score: Yuri Poteyenko
Editing: Steven Mirkovich
Studios: Aldamisa Entertainment, Alexander Rodnyansky, Non-Stop Productions, Midnight Sun Pictures, K. Jam Media
Distributor: IFC Films (USA)
Stars: Holly Goss, Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright, Ryan Hawley, Gemma Atkinson, Nikolay Butenin, Nelly Nielsen, Valeriy Fedorovich, Aleksey Kink, Sergey Lobanov, Oleg Kurlov, Dmitriy Miheev, Richard Reid, Anton Klimov, Igor Kulachko, Aleksey Nesterov, Leonid Lutvinskiy, Jane Perry

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Suggested Audio Candy

Twilight Sleep “Unrest”

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Somebody, somewhere has a lot of explaining to do. Since every young filmmaker on the planet grabbed themselves a handheld camera and learned how to operate it, there has been a disconcerting amount of ‘lost footage’ turning up unannounced. When The Blair Witch Project turned awry for Heather, Joshua and Michael, all manner of strange phenomena began to be captured on film and anyone held culpable for playing peeping Tom have invariably wound up on the side of a milk carton or, worse still, the contents. There’s only so many paranormal activities and grave encounters we can take before this hands-on approach to storytelling loses some of its appeal and, despite honorable mentions for films such as The Chernobyl Diaries and Hollow, the whole genre has been in danger of over-saturation for some time now.

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Well guess what? They’ve only gone and found some more footage. I know right; just when you think Arthur C. Clarke is out of unexplained mysteries to solve, another one comes up on your blind side and bites your ass cheek. We’ve learned the origin of witches, spent nights in dilapidated insane asylums and lifted the veil on Area 51, but nobody has been plucky enough to traverse the iron curtain until now. There’s a reason for that; Russians are sticklers for their privacy and what happens in Volgograd stays in Volgograd after all. If Hostel proved a bone of contention with anybody looking into backpacking to Croatia then the Soviet tourist trade may well also be about to suffer something of a slump on this evidence.

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Also known as The Dyatlov Pass Incident, Devil’s Pass marks a departure for Renny Harlin although a return to the colder climates of Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2 where the most famous Finnish film director in history made a name for himself. Harlin’s extensive résumé includes a brief foray into horror, particularly with under-appreciated chiller Prison before adhering to the action template which has served him so well. He was also responsible for bringing the world the glorious The Adventures of Ford Fairlane; a film widely regarded as pure spam of the densest order but shamelessly entertaining and quotable beyond compare. While it is never a bad thing to see Renny return to his horror roots, it would have been preferable to see him in less restrictive confines than these. You go where the work is I suppose.

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So what can Devil’s Pass offer that hasn’t been done to death a thousand times over already? Precious little if truth be known. Those looking for inspiration will likely come away unmoved as this is no more memorable than countless other well-made chillers popping up all over the show of late. However, all is not lost as films of its ilk are profitable for good reason; we all want to watch folk bicker and die horribly for their lack of awareness. When a group of American documentary film-makers embark on an expedition to investigate the disappearance on nine Russian skiers over fifty years earlier, we know that their ticket will only need be one-way but the question is… how will they meet their demise and what will be left of them after they work out what lurks in the abandoned bunker?

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One particular Achilles heel for the genre is pacing and Devil’s Pass suffers from the same affliction as every other fly on the wall. It spends two-thirds of its duration trudging through snow before we get to the big thaw and those with short attention spans will likely have drunk themselves into a stupor on Russian vodka before the mystery is unraveled. It would be a shame to leave the party before the big giveaway as the final third is exactly where it’s at and, whilst not reinventing the wheel, Harlin’s film gets some fundamental things very much on the money. Locations are key here and two, in particular, are doozies. On one hand we have the wide open expanses of the surrounding Death mountain, where Mother nature is suffering from a severe case of menstrual cramps and, on the other, we have the insular trappings of that ominous bunker. Once penned in and destitute, our remaining backpackers are offered a severe case of the willies and we get to watch on like the voyeurs that we so clearly are.

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It’s all about the pay-off with works like this and thankfully, when Harlin’s expertise is called upon, he come up trumps. It’s the usual clanking chains and murky shadows admittedly and the CGI chamber-dwellers may well be considered a little poorly rendered but their fleetness of foot and transportation skills do mean that they don’t linger in one place long enough to to pick holes in their appearance. Instead, we just about buy it or, at least, sufficiently to ensure the obligatory chills and faint terror necessitated. Ultimately, a vague plot involving time-travel, wormholes and the like affords a slightly left-field conclusion which is admirable, even though the execution is somewhat by-the-numbers. Harlin comes away with credibility intact but not furthered and another unexplained mystery remains that way for the foreseeable. Job done.

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It is hard to show genuine excitement when a film such as Devil’s Pass surfaces as it’s all a bit long in the tooth at this point. Had it arrived five years earlier then I’m sure it would have enjoyed wider recognition but it’s just too little too late. If you haven’t had your fill of found footage already then there are far worse ways to spend 100 minutes of your time. If however, you’re already sick to the abdomen of watching hunched over cretins causing merry mayhem then you may want to give this a wide berth. I know one thing for damned sure… it would take a whole tanker of potent Russian vodka to lure me into these particular mountains.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Dread Factor: 3/5

For the Dread-Heads: It’s a long hike for sure and doesn’t come to life until around the hour mark but, once secured in place, our pawns are put through the ringer with reasonably effective results. There’s just a tad too much familiarity to freeze the blood in your veins.

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Read The Blair Witch Project Appraisal

Read Grave Encounters Appraisal

Read The Descent Appraisal

Read The Depraved Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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