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December 23, 2014

The Dyatlov Pass Incident

by Franz Patrick


Dyatlov Pass Incident, The (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Since learning about the nine experienced Russian backpackers who perished in the Ural Mountains under mysterious circumstances, Holly (Holly Goss), a psychology student in the University of Oregon, has been drawn to the subject. She hopes to uncover the pending questions about the deaths and so she receives a grant to make a documentary. Along with Holly, four college students (Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright, Ryan Hawley, Gemma Atkinson) go to Russia to conduct an investigation.

“The Dyatlov Pass Incident,” written by Vikram Weet, plays with the audience by presenting an increasing number of questions accompanied by a steady escalation of unease. It is a horror movie in a sense that people eventually get attacked and die but it is a cut above being standard even though obvious holes in the plot are present. It is willing to look deep into the bizarre so it is never boring—a feat considering that it is a found footage film.

The picture invites us to be interested in the mystery. Instead of relying on eerie photographs and old newspaper clippings regarding the incident to create a sense of foreboding, it utilizes space to get us as close as possible to what is being investigated. For example, once the characters reach the location of interest, red paint is sprayed on ice to denote the various locations of the dead bodies. Seeing the red marks combined with the photos shown early in the film, it is easy to imagine the ravaged rotting corpses back in 1959, just waiting to be discovered.

When humor is forced, it just does not work. I suppose the idea is to create some sort of levity for two reasons: to convince us the characters are not simply fodder for the picking and to let our guards down just before something terribly wrong occurs. Instead, whenever the three young men and women try to be funny or witty, I felt them saying their lines as opposed to feeling the experience and being in the moment. The acting is not the film’s strongest point so it might have worked better if the lines that sounded too unnatural were eliminated.

I enjoyed that it is a found footage film in spirit but not necessarily in style. Someone holds the camera most of the time but it does not shake relentlessly every time something scary happens. Occasionally, when appropriate, it does. It shows us that director Renny Harlin is confident in the images he wishes to display. Moving the camera to create a dizzy spell is not scary, but the camera sitting still as we look closer and try to make sense of what is going on can be—given the right number of beats and appropriate shock.

Also known as “Devil’s Pass,” the film offers some beautiful shots of icy terrain, a few effective chills, and ambition. A handful of clues are dispersed throughout which justify the ending. A few details are tricky but most of them come together, I think. The script and execution may not always be right on the money but it gets the job done.

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