Emblazoned across the cover of this straight-to-DVD found footage horror is the name of the director, Renny Harlin, and two of his well-known films, Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger. The fact that he has since done ten other features (including the studio-bankrupting Cutthroat Island) does not bode well for anyone looking for quality. At least his two aforementioned biggest hits had its Planet Hollywood stars to help carry the films – there’s no such luck here.
What is interesting is that this is based on a real-life tragedy of a group of nine Russian skiers, mysteriously killed in the Ural Mountains in 1959. The official explanation was that it was from a natural force i.e. an avalanche. The film, rather fascinatingly, opens with genuine photos of the group before their demise, led by Igor Dyatlov (hence the name).
Where it goes off into fiction is when a present-day Russian news bulletin takes over, reporting that a student group of five US documentary filmmakers have gone missing after trying to investigate what actually happened all those years ago. The film goes downhill rather rapidly from this point onwards. Video footage, described as being discovered by hackers from the Russian ‘top-secret’ files, shows us what happened to these young Americans.
As with the norm for the genre, at least a third of the plot, usually at the beginning, is just character development (or so we’re to believe here). But even though the group are meant to be students from the same university, the disjointed dynamics, coupled with the noticeably scripted dialogue and bargain-basement acting, makes it impossible to tell who are friends, who are lovers and who’s meant to be unlikeable (as it goes, they all are).
While the mountainous setting is decent and the low-budget CGI passable, so much more could have been made of the fascinating event this is based around. Similar to the much-maligned Chernobyl Diaries, it takes an actual disaster to create a premise but does nothing to exploit the fear of taking terror into the real world. Instead this flitters off into something out of The Descent. What differs – and somewhat incredulous – is how they incorporate time-travel. Yes, time-travel.
The Dyatlov Pass Incident only adds to the growing list of below-par found footage horrors, with influences from The Blair Witch Project, REC, The Tunnel and just about every other film before it. Harlin may have been noteworthy back in the day, but now he’s just another filmmaker jumping on the bandwagon of an overloaded genre. The only thing similar to Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2 is the snow, and they both seem a long, long time ago now.
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