Thursday, February 11, 2016

Black Mountain Side (2014): Superstition Reigns Supreme In The Great White North

I'm a real sucker for films that take place in ridiculously remote locations, in particular if it boasts arctic temperatures and an immeasurable amount of the white stuff.  It is for this reason that I love films such as The Thing and The Last Winter.  And it is for this reason that I watched Black Mountain Side.

In a remote cabin in the great white north of Canada, a group of archaeological researchers have uncovered what appears to be a stone monument ages and ages old. Unsure of just what they have found, they set about to secure funds and assistance to dig out the evolving mystery.  When superstitious local workers dig around the large stone, attempting to bring to light the meaning of the strange writings on the artifact, they one by one disappear from the site, eventually leaving the researchers high and dry unless they are to continue on their own.   The men, sure they have uncovered the greatest find in archaeological history, attempt to forge ahead, with disastrous results.

The film immediately evokes an expected sense of frigid claustrophobia, which is something I can really dig into.  The woods around the cabin were ominous, even more so because of their far-north location - it was only light out for around 5 hours a day.  Which leaves a lot of time to look out the cabin window and see something.....what was that? the edge of the treeline.  The cinematography was really stunning, as nothing is more beautiful than snow falling upon snow, with a large expanse of woods behind it.  And as spectacular as that is, it is so much more unsettling when the sun is going down and shadows abound, casting an eerie blue light on the snow right at dusk. The snow is all-too suffocating, made even worse when trapped by situations out of your control.

Soon after the workers start disappearing, the men begin to hear strange noises outside the cabin.  Voices are telling them to do things, to hurt someone else or themselves. They start seeing disturbing images that are not easily explained.  Supplies start to run low and they are unable to contact the base station to send help when the bizarre illnesses and startling injuries start piling up.  Is it all because of the strange stone monument?  Are the legends the locals tell true?  All of this feels very familiar, and truthfully we've seen it all before, many times.  So it's all in whether or not you are willing to travel this same road again, with a new cast of victims.

One thing that I felt didn't work to its full potential is the fleshing out of the individual characters.  By the end of the film I couldn't recall any of their names or personalities.  They all seemed to run together and no one truly stood out.  In comparison, a movie like The Thing works so much better because you become vested with those characters - you know them.  You care what happens to them.  Here, a man loses his arm, then another his hand.  And you know what?  I can't remember either of their names, nor their purpose for being there.  And while we're at it, could they not have had a different body part removed to put some distinction between the characters?  I mean, it wasn't like it was a movie directly about people losing their upper limbs.   I think the director wanted us to know the difference between the men, but the only one I can actually recall is the obligatory doctor, because he was always treating someone and we saw him frequently.  Everyone else was either playing poker or trading barbs around the table.  Which works wonderfully in films like The Thing and Alien - because we rapidly find ourselves getting to know and care about the characters.  And that's why those films are vastly superior to this one- but in all honesty, this is not a bad indie film at all.

Despite its few character flaws, Black Mountain Side is a truly atmospheric and mostly-fun time, but it's a slow, slow burn.  Don't expect things to move along with any real speed, as the heart of the film is the slow, desperate realization that perhaps no one is getting out alive.

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