The Dyatlov Pass Incident

The Dyatlov Pass Incident


Reviewed by: David Graham

Renny Harlin returns to a peak of his chequered career by giving his latest venture a setting reminiscent of taut mountaineering thriller Cliffhanger. What really distinguishes this potboiler however is its canny fusion of the found footage format – so often concerned with urban legend already – with actual historical mystery, replaying the well-documented titular incident with a young modern cast. Enlivened by the spectacularly oppressive locations and the narrative’s air of ambiguity, it’s not entirely successful but it’s gripping entertainment that maintains a sense of mystery right up to its insane everything-but-the-kitchen-sink climax.

50 years ago, a fascinating mystery developed around a group of nine seasoned hikers who went missing in the Carpathian mountains. The facts surrounding the discovery of their scattered corpses – with some suffering massive internal injuries and others seemingly fleeing their tents stark naked – have been rationalised by some, while wild conspiracy theories covering everything from UFOs to military cover-ups have flared up amongst others.

A team of American students embark on the same trek determined to uncover the truth, but it’s not long before they’re experiencing some disturbing phenomena first-hand By now, this genre is merely familiar where it used to be frighteningly effective, but Harlin’s classical build-up works well, delivering the usual mix of gentle mock-doc satire, prickly protagonists and eerie foreshadowing. As the annoying but convincing ensemble reach the Russian towns at the foot of the mountains, several engaging fish-out-of-water scenes play out, authentic detail combining with horror tropes – warnings from locals, interviews with witnesses – to instil genuine dread and build tangible intrigue.

The trek itself initially follows the precise path of every other lost-in-the-wilderness horror, with tentative romance and campfire frolics giving way to unsettling happenings of both natural origin and something more inexplicable. A centrepiece disaster is particularly impressive, the panic-stricken shakey-cam working to Harlin’s advantage in making the set-piece appear more realistic than his budget would otherwise achieve. It’s a brilliantly intense sequence, where the messiness of the format really immerses the viewer in the ferocious elements.

Then comes the inevitable Blair Witch-style squabbling over what to do, while injury predictably splits the group into packs. Up to this point there have been brief glimpses of background horrors that hinted at a larger story, but Harlin exponentially throws more into the mix to keep the viewer on their toes and stoke the flames of his mystery even further. Every time he reveals something that threatens to tip the plot into the realm of the ridiculous, along comes another unexpected thread that’s so out there as to stifle any guffaws through sheer brazen showmanship.

The acting is solid across the board, with Gemma Atkinson acing a Yank accent and proving she’s more than a pert pair of breasts for once (although Harlin and his characters get plenty of cringe-inducing mileage out of them), while Holly Goss makes an appealing and grounded heroine. The lads are a little less well rounded, but there’s tangible friction between cocky Matt Stokoe and headstrong jock Ryan Hawley while Luke Albright proves palpably sensitive, his bond with Goss offering some mid-way respite from the bickering.

It’s not exactly reinventing the wheel but like Barry Levinson’s The Bay, The Dyatlov Pass Incident is an immersive experience that only abandons believability in its final stretch, and at least does so with gonzo gusto. Found footage fans will find plenty to shiver their timbers– despite the action eventually ripping off everything from Rec to Paranormal Activity – and open-minded horror fans should find the progressive sense of mystery alluring. It’s great to see that Harlin still knows how to get the viewer’s juices going, and if this is what he can pull off with a tiny budget, imagine what he might do given another shot at the big time.

Reviewed on: 17 Sep 2013
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Five young filmmakers investigate the mysterious disappearance of a group of hikers in a remote mountain pass.
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Director: Renny Harlin

Writer: Vikram Weet

Starring: Richard Reid, Gemma Atkinson, Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright, Holly Goss

Year: 2013

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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