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There has been an avalanche of horror faux documentaries and handi-cam films coming out lately, and Renny Harlin’s Devil’s Pass is one of them. This time the merry band of explorers filming the ill-fated tour head off to the Russian mountains, namely the Dyatlov Pass, where 50 years before a group of expeditioners died of “unnatural causes.” Could it have been yeti, or the strange lights in the sky that they saw, or maybe just the Russians covering up some experiment in the mountains? Or maybe it was just a bunch of people having a poorly planned camp orgy.

Renny Harlin’s had it okay in the horror field. He directed A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (which is an ’80s movie, by the way), along with The Covenant and Exorcist: The Beginning. One could argue that nearly 2/3 of those films weren’t well received, and they’d be right, but that doesn’t mean Harlin can’t have good luck with a mock doc.

Because the thing is, these handheld cam horror films are pretty easy to structure. They follow all of the same patterns, just with differing characters and situations. Devil’s Pass is nearly identical to the format of last year’s The Frankenstein Theory – smart people become interested in a mystery somewhere out in the wilds, they set out to film the danger they know is out there, and then they manage to make a Faces of Death film instead of a scientific discovery. Devil’s Pass follows all of this spot-on throughout the first two acts; I mean, switch out scenes of another horror faux-doc here and there and I might not be able to tell the difference except for the fact that this film has snow in it.That doesn’t mean that Devil’s Pass is a bad film; in actuality, it means that Harlin has learned from other handheld horrors about what works well. The documentary setup requires the viewer to get to know the people behind the camera, and they also must be likable. The film stars Holly Goss as Holly, who is basically the brains behind the operation along with her cameraman Jenson (Matt Stokoe). She’s recruited Denise (Gemma Atkinson) as boom girl with the cans and JP (Luke Albright) and Andy (Ryan Hawley) as guides, and they all set out in the cold climes of Russia to climb the mountain of the dead to find Dyatlov’s Pass.
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Harlin spends a lot of time opening the film with various shots of Russian environments. We take in the glory of the Northern Lights, the beauty of the harsh winter landscape, and the massiveness of Gemma Atkinson’s boobs. We watch as Andy freaks out about footprints in the snow, the hardened hiker who’s scared of some snow bunnies. Suffice to say that the beginning of Devil’s Pass moves slower than a watching glacier melt in an ice chest.

The film develops Holly, Jenson, and JP fairly well, but it doesn’t even try to get to Andy or Denise. That’s strange considering how much time the film really takes to center on these people; still, Denise is simply known as the pretty girl and Andy the total douche, a facet the viewer can probably pick up from them at the beginning of the film.

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But most of Devil’s Pass is transparent. The film’s story is kind of like looking through one of those shower glasses with the blurred windows: you can see the full outline of what’s inside, and you might even be able to piece things together, but there’s still parts that you can’t see. The early news reports that the movie shows us  make things pretty obvious what’s going to happen, so the adventure is in getting to that point.

And Harlin makes good use of darkness in the final scenes of the film, when Holly and Jenson find themselves trapped in a Russian cave meant for scientific experiments. The film’s conclusion, too, is the most creative aspect of Devil’s Pass; with that said, it seems that the movie was made with the ending in mind. A reliance on CG creatures often makes the film look like a video game, and the action during these sequences doesn’t impress.

Overall, Devil’s Pass isn’t as frigid as its setting, nor does it glisten like the ice of the Dyatlov Pass. If you’ve seen one faux documentary, you’ll know exactly what to expect here, and while there are a couple of thrills here and there to keep things moving, most of the action is frozen by tedious amounts of opening exposition.

Thanks to IFC Films for providing review copy.

Devil’s Pass on Rotten Tomatoes

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