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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

The Dyatlov Pass Incident (aka Devil’s Pass) review: mountain high

Dyatlov Pass Incident Devil's Pass green light Holly Goss

A deliciously ooky, X-Files-esque chiller that’s a scary-fun hoot and a half; a lean, smart example of the found-footage flick.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

There was a real “Dyatlov Pass Incident,” in 1959: nine hikers died on a remote Russian mountain in mysterious circumstances that no one has, to this day, yet been quite able to adequately explain. I have no doubt that the mysteriousness of those authentic historical circumstances has been somewhat exaggerated for this fictional investigation, but I’m absolutely fine with that, because as a result, we get a deliciously ooky, X-Files-esque chiller that’s a scary-fun hoot and a half. Five university kids from Oregon, led by psychology student Holly (Holly Goss), set out to retrace the route followed by Igor Dyatlov and his friends in the hopes of figuring out what might have caused the victims to behave so oddly — some of them removed their clothing in subzero temperatures — or to incur such odd injuries, such as bones broken without any bruising to the skin and random doses of radiation. Tons of juicy conspiracy theories get floated — Yetis, UFOs, and wormholes on one end, bad weather and the peculiar effects of Russian moonshine on the other — as Holly and Co. head up into the mountains and begin to experience oddities of their own, which I won’t dare spoil. (The script, by newcomer Vikram Weet, is lean and smart.) The found-footage trope works better here than in most other examples of the subgenre, partly because, perhaps, this is less a flick concerned with horror-style jumps and boos and more a spooky bit of science fiction. The unease and — yes — later the fear spring from strange and discomforting ideas, not from things going bump in the night (or in the snow), and Holly’s cheerfully gung-ho science experiment becomes a caustic portrait in stubborn determination that acknowledges her youthful foolhardiness without ever becoming one of those anti-science “cautionary” tales about things humanity shouldn’t be meddling in. Which isn’t to say, necessarily, that there aren’t very singular and dangerous things afoot here! (It’s refreshing, too, that none of Holly’s companions are reckless idiots, either; they’re all competent and capable adults.) This represents an interesting — and welcome — pulling-back for director Renny Harlin (Driven) from the blockbuster bombast of his big 1990s flicks. Other exhausted (and exhausting) Hollywood bad boys could take a cue from him.

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The Dyatlov Pass Incident (aka Devil’s Pass) (2013)
US/Can release: Aug 23 2013 (VOD same day)
UK/Ire release: Aug 23 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated CT for graphic fun with conspiracy theories
MPAA: rated R for some violence/disturbing images, and for a sexual reference
BBFC: rated 15 (contains strong horror, threat and gory images)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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