Film

Black Mountain Side


Black Mountain Side (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

In just over a month, almost all researchers conducting a dig in the Arctic North will be dead. The audience will not be offered a defined explanation, only possibilities, for it will be up to us to interpret what actually happened. “Black Mountain Side,” written and directed by Nick Szostakiwskyj, is a daring horror film clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s “The Thing” on the surface and Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” in its marrow. (With a bit of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” on the side.) It assumes that those watching are smart enough to form their own hypotheses and eventually come to their own conclusions. It is not for those expecting to be spoon-fed and it is absolutely not for those wishing for an open-and-shut ending. I recommend it only for the most adventurous and ardent horror fans.

We are welcomed by stunningly beautiful vistas of Canadian lands blanketed by snow. The aerial view hides the fact that upon closer inspection, there is death, dying, and competition. We settle in an isolated research site composed only of men led by the grounded and patient Jensen (Shane Twerdun). A man named Olsen (Michael Dickson) has just arrived who is there to study the artifacts that have been unearthed recently—some date back 14,000 years. His goal is to write a grant so the research can be funded and continue. Perhaps the most interesting thing unveiled from the ice thus far is a structure that appears to be older than the other artifacts from other studies around the area. Natives who have been hired to work at the site grow wary of it. Soon they are nowhere to be found.

In a place where sunlight can only be seen five hours a day during winter, the archeologists are left with plenty of time to think. They play poker, they read, they do work, they drink and smoke, they grow bored. They get anxious that eventually no one at the nearest station would answer the radio, they get annoyed of annoying noises like a ball bouncing off wooden cabins, they get angry at one another due to the lack of explanation from the bizarre happenings as of late. Someone gets sick. An arm is amputated. A man takes a shotgun to blow his brain off. There is a pattern of men being unable to sleep for several days. What’s real and what isn’t anymore?

The writer-director does a commendable job in emphasizing that perhaps the men are losing their minds due to cabin fever. Some of them hear voices. Do they or their families have a history of schizophrenia? But there is a doctor on the team (Andrew Moxham). He has found evidence of an organism that came from the ice, capable of living inside human bodies and wrecking havoc. I will not detail what it does. I will leave that to you to discover. But do not expect to see slimy creatures and the like taking over the camp. The work is far more subtle than a creature-feature; it understands that what humans are capable are far more horrific, more monstrous than any creature that has been frozen for centuries. Look at what we do to our planet on a daily basis.

At times I felt “Black Mountain Side” is defiantly opaque, purposefully frustrating those wishing to be satisfied in a traditional sense. I admired that. In this day and age where questions and answers must be provided in horror films every fifteen minutes, this one chooses to linger on our suspicions. Our attention span is stretched, challenged. And so we look in the darkness a little longer. Did I find the characters to be interesting? Not at all. I didn’t even care whether they lived or died. But I was consistently intrigued by what was happening to them. Even in the last scene, down to the very last shot, there is no compromise. It is without question the film is all in. It welcomes us, dares us, to do the same.

3 replies »

  1. I saw your review and gave this one a shot, but i couldn’t get into it. I thought the dialogue and acting was mediocre, and 15 minutes in and I could not figure out a plot; the scenes dragged, as they spent too much time talking about their work which was absolutely dull to listen to. In film you show, don’t tell, and keep dialogue to a minimum, and only provide what is necessary to move the story forward in each scene. The filmmakers failed to do all of this, and then even as you stated on your review, they don’t even give an explanation as to what was happening, and its left for the viewer to interpret – which would be fine if you were telling an interesting story (like Shutter Island or Take Shelter) but i just didn’t have enough faith in the filmmakers ability to tell a “story” I’d even want to interpret…

    So, i had to cut it off. BUT the good news is when I turned it off I immediately turned on “The Amaranth” and that’s why I am commenting, as I highly recommend for you b/c it’s right up your alley. It’s on Amazon Prime. That’s what I was explaining as to why I will cut a film off if I’m not enjoying b/c I can always find something else to watch that I will enjoy; had I finished this Black Mountain Side film I would not have watched The Amaranth, or at least not for a while. There are always good films out there to watch, therefore life is too short to waste watching films you don’t enjoy. But your blog is like a recommendation/review site, so you feel it’s necessary to watch the entire film so you can go into detail to your audience which is understandable; you have taken many bullets for the team. lol. I remove the bullets as soon as they start to pierce the skin. But I did finish “Fatal Affair” on netflix b/c it was so hilarious. I will finish a “so bad it’s good” movie. lol.

    • Yeah, I can definitely see how “Black Mountain Side” won’t be for everybody. In fact, I don’t think it’s for most people. I watched it with my parents and they didn’t get it at all. lol. My first paragraph serves a warning for those expecting something easily digestible. I found enough good things about it to recommend it for those looking something different.

      “The Amaranth” sounds interesting. I’ll put it on my queue.

      • yeah, i think you’ll love the Amaranth or at least the concept; you may not love the execution or direction it takes, but i think you will appreciate the effort. *Also, definitely be sure to watch polish film on netflix “The Hater” as i think you’ll dig that one, as well. Looking forward to reading reviews for both of these titles. “The Hater” has a very interesting and complex protagonist. This film really was an experience.

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