Devil’s Pass (a.k.a. The Dyatlov Pass Incident) (2013)
Last weekend I was in the mood for something different. I didn’t want the typical zombie or vampire flick. You know the one’s I’m talking about; the ones that’re 100% predictable and you know how it’s gonna end thirty minutes in. So I stumbled upon DEVIL’S PASS and after reading the summary thought I’d give it a shot. It sounded familiar but it wasn’t until I saw who directed it that all the pieces fell together. DEVIL’S PASS has action director Renny Harlin at the helm. I covered this film back in May 2012 when the working title was THE DYATLOV PASS INCIDENT. The plot is based on the true story of nine hikers who died in the Ural Mountains in 1959 (as of today the cause of death of the nine hikers is still considered an unexplained mystery). So Harlin and writer Vikram Weet made a movie speculating on what may have happened to the unlucky Russians.
DEVIL’S PASS begins in the present time with Holly (Holly Goss), a film student, explaining and for her big project she’s gathered up a group of friends to try and solve the mystery of “The Dyatlov Pass Incident.” There’s Denise (Gemma Atkinson), the sound editor; Andy and JP (Ryan Hawley and Luke Albright, respectively), the experienced climbers; and Jensen (Matt Stokoe), the expert on the Dyatlov Pass Incident and all conspiracy knowledge (he’s the Mulder of the group).
Harlin, the director of CLIFFHANGER, DIE HARD 2, and many other action flicks, does a nice job with subtlety here. We get to meet and like the characters and I especially enjoyed that there wasn’t the typical archetypes here. There wasn’t an asshole in the group or a love triangle that threatened to tear the group apart. These were well written characters that interacted well with each other and who gets the audience on their side. They also don’t make a lot of stupid decisions (there’s a few made towards the end, but that was solely to progress the plot).
After they get to Russia they start encountering weird people and circumstances. One of their contacts they were supposed to interview was a survivor of the incident and when they get to hospital where he’s staying they are told he died. But when they look at the building there’s a guy (their guy) holding a sign warning them to just go home. Then they meet Sergei (Nikolay Butenin) who takes them to their next destination as they get closer to the Ural Mountains and the site of the incident. Sergei tells them that his aunt Alya (Nelly Nielsen) was one of the first responders to the site and when they interview her she tells them there were really eleven bodies found and yet only nine were reported. I liked how Harlin built up suspense and a sense of mystery with all these odd occurrences.
If you saw the trailer, which I recommend you don’t see (it gives away too much information) then you know that part of DEVIL’S PASS is shot with a shaky handheld camera. Yes part of this is played off as “found footage,” but luckily Harlin doesn’t use this played out, tired gimmick throughout the entire film. Just when I had enough of the found footage POV it switches to a normal film.
At the site of the incident they find these odd large footprints, their GPS goes haywire, their equipment starts getting radiation readouts, and they find the entrance to a manmade cave with a thick steel door that looks as though it’s there to keep something inside the mountain. But by this point they’re at the point of no return and must wait until morning to get the hell out of there. But as you know it’s already too late and they are fucked.
I won’t give away any of the ending, but I will tell you that we get an explanation as to what the happened to the Dyatlov party and to our group of current schmucks. We didn’t get a lameass copout like in YELLOWBRICKROAD (my review) that left you scratching your head. The explanation is an interesting one that involves a few elements that people well versed in conspiracy lore will enjoy. But what I really enjoyed was that once the survivors got inside the manmade mountain it becomes a fast-paced, creepy thriller and you can tell Harlin hits his comfort zone. Even if you aren’t crazy about the explanation (I’m still on the fence about it) at least we get an explanation and some closure and it’s a lot of fun watching Harlin do what he does best.
I enjoyed DEVIL’S PASS and appreciated writer Weet veering away from the standard types of characters that usually infest these types of films. The film has a nice pace (especially the ending) and I think you’ll enjoy the DESCENT-ish atmosphere that’s created inside the manmade mountain. Check out DEVIL’S PASS; I’m curious to hear your thoughts on it.
Director: Renny Harlin
Plot: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer