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.