Saturday, 27 July 2013

FRIGHTFEST: The Dyatlov Pass Incident


Nowadays, for a found-footage film to stand apart from the piles of tapes of amateur camerawork before it, it seems that a safe bet would be to base it on true events. If that’s the case, what better than to feature it on one of the most bizarre mysteries of the 20th century? The Dyatlov Pass Incident refers to the disappearance of nine young American hikers in the Russian Ural mountains 54 years ago, which remains unsolved and has sparked deliberation and international theoretical debate ever since.

Renny Harlin’s film adaptation sees a group of young graduate hiking enthusiasts from Oregon trek the now isolated mountain where these unfortunate climbers mystified their fate, in order to replicate their journey and try to discover what happened to them all those years ago. They do, of course, record it. And alas! - They do, of course, go missing too.

Initial clips from TV news stories help authenticate and contextualise the story, and an unnerving leaked thirty second clip from the group’s camera that preludes the main viewing sparks a tepid interest early on.

Rewatching the footage of the crew’s camera, retrieved one month later, plays out this subgenre’s most worn clich├ęs from obsessive over-confident characters, warnings from locals not to proceed and the tracking down of those once involved for interviews. A series of unexplained noises, spooky disruptions and inhuman footprints break from the group’s frictions, only for a ‘freak’ avalanche to incite the film’s first fatalities.

It’s not until Harlin renders his own theory to the group’s fate - a theory which was and still is widely shared by others - that it starts to embrace the opportunity of portraying one of the most important modern age mysteries. The dark consequences of historic military torture and experiments unearths a terrifying deranged presence that raptures a brutal chaos and an uncanny scientific suggestion that is left to the baffled viewer’s imagination. Unfortunately, with only twenty minutes to go, this intriguing otherworldly ending is not enough to provoke an all-round satisfying thrill. 

Having been documented and fictionalized in TV and books since the legal inquest was declared inconclusive, the popular found footage subgenre may have instinctively appeared to be the next format for theorizing this Russian mystery. Maybe it is. But here, the priorities are muddled and the occasion wasted; the narrative dominance of sweeping facts, theories and context adds nothing to the complexity of existing literature, thus leaving the plausible, imaginative scope to be half-heartedly executed as a mere after-thought.

VERDICT: A half decent effort to uncover one of history's true mysteries through the use of a popular genre medium, but an effort that does not make use of its opportunity.

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