Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.
Devil’s Pass (Netflix, $3.99 Amazon) absolutely sounds like a movie that belongs in the VOD-only realm. It sounds like the sort of thing you’d expect to find on Netflix or Hulu at 11:30 at night. You watch it because you don’t feel like sleeping yet and you might just be drunk enough to not be disgusted with how horrible it is. If we were still in the heyday of straight-to-video or straight-to-DVD schlock, you’d find it in a bargain bin at Blockbuster mixed in with a dozen of copies of Lionheart 2.
But lo and to my great surprise, herein lies a film that, while unforgivably built from shitty found footage cliches, is actually fairly interesting and feels at least somewhat professional. It has gorgeous locations, a few decent scares and the small ensemble of pretty young nobodies is game enough. None of them are really up to the challenge of improvising natural sounding dialogue, let alone conveying the impact of the horrible shit they’ll eventually encounter. But that’s hardly unexpected in an unbudgeted, unheralded indie horror movie. Right?
Here’s the thing: Devil’s Pass was directed by Renny fucking Harlin. Yeah, dude directed Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight and a bunch of hugely budgeted and/or successful action-adventure flicks. Now, at age 54, he’s trying out this new-fangled found footage thing his kids keep telling him about. In an indie horror movie with zero distribution and no hope of a theatrical release. This man fallen a long way since Warner Bros. threw a hundred million dollars at him for Deep Blue Sea and he’s a little long in the tooth to be embracing new fads. I can’t wait until he discovers Twitter. FMAOL.
Still, Harlin brings an undeniable degree of expertise to the movie. The man has enough experience to make the film stick together, no small feat since the script is a completely clueless ripoff of The Blair Witch Project, except with KGB agents and teleporting yetis. It’s a terrible shame they go found footage because it’s just ludicrous to see these idiotic 20-somethings running for their lives, leaving everything behind – food, coats, shelter – but managing to keep their digital cameras and smartphones, which are miraculously unaffected by -30 degree temperatures. And no matter what they danger, they’re somehow able to keep their entire party in frame. Found footage is a nightmare from which I fear I shall never wake. It is a trend I pray will be mocked by future generations for eternity alongside reality TV and skinny jeans.
Added bonus: Oh shit, I totally forgot the best part of the whole damn movie: it’s based on a true story! No wait! It really is true and it’s AMAZING. In 1959 (the same year Harlin was born, oddly) in the Soviet Union, nine healthy, experienced hikers took off for a cold weather climb in the Ural mountains. One night, for no reason, they all clawed their way out of their tent and ran into the sub zero wilderness to freeze to death. ALL of them. At the same time. A few met their ends calmly, sitting side by side at a fire until it died and they slowly turned to popsicles. The others were found in states that suggested they were fleeing from – or to – something. Some had broken ribs or fractured skulls, but these injuries were not accompanied by any external wounds whatsoever. No bruises, no cuts, nothing. Except for one victim, who was MISSING HER FUCKING TONGUE. Investigations revealed no plausible explanation for what happened and the Russian government labeled the cause “a compelling natural force”. None of that, of course, explains why their clothing was radioactive or why nearby residents claimed to have seen glowing orange spheres of light in the sky. Why have there not been a dozen movies about this?