(US/Russia - 2013)
THE BAY, and now DIE HARD 2 and CLIFFHANGER director Renny Harlin, who hasn't had a hit since 1999's DEEP BLUE SEA, as he belatedly hops on the bandwagon with the barely-released DEVIL'S PASS. Written by reality TV vet Vikram Weet (whose production associate credits include THE REAL WORLD and KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS), the film ostensibly tries to get to the truth behind the mysterious Dyatlov Pass Incident, which took place in the mountains of northern Russia in 1959. Nine mountain climbers were found frozen to death, many displaying inexplicable injuries like severed tongues and crushed chest cavities with no exterior bruising, and one had an exceedingly high amount of radiation. The official word from the Russian government was hypothermia, but there's long been conspiracy theories about everything from UFOs to nuclear testing to a yeti attack. University of Oregon psych student Holly (Holly Goss) has been obsessed with the case for much of her life, and gets a grant to shoot a documentary where she attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery. Joining her on the project are her platonic friend and cameraman/conspiracy theorist Jensen (Matt Stokoe), sound operator Denise (Gemma Atkinson), and experienced guides JP (Luke Albright) and Andy (Ryan Hawley).
For about 2/3 of its running time, DEVIL'S PASS is on the high end of the found-footage genre. The characters aren't too irritating, Harlin stays fairly consistent with the camera work, and the frozen, desolate surroundings are always effective for horror films. There's a couple of brief glimpses of figures lingering in the snowy background, and strange footprints start appearing near their camp. JP and Andy think Holly is playing games, but of course she isn't. The film only starts stumbling when it busts out the night-vision and the requisite "running around screaming with a shaky cam," gets sloppy with the consistency of the camera operation, the dialogue starts to sound a little too scripted, and Harlin and Weet start piling on everything from alien abductions, psychic and paranormal phenomena, wormholes and teleportation, time travel, the Philadelphia Experiment, and even the Mothman. It's not for nothing that JP is seen reading Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five at one point. It almost threatens to turn itself into a found-footage take on THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, but Harlin eventually buckles down for a twist ending that's goofy but mostly works. Just don't expect any serious examination of the Dyatlov Pass Incident and you'll be reasonably entertained. There are some undeniably chilling moments throughout, but it's getting difficult at this point to get excited about anything related to found-footage. (R, 100 mins)
(UK - 2012/2013 US release)
ALIEN UPRISING isn't very good, but it would be a bit better if Burns had a more competent star than Bree, a beautiful but astonishingly inept actress whose presence is likely a contractual demand to secure the guest-star participation of her father: Jean-Claude Van Damme. JCVD has put his daughter and son Kristopher Van Varenberg in most of his own recent films (Kristopher sits this one out), but Bree has never had this much screen time before. But this isn't really a Van Damme vehicle: he appears in a couple of two-second cutaways early on and isn't properly introduced until around 75 minutes in, exiting approximately 12 minutes later. He's sleepwalking through his one day on the set and is just here for distribution value and to get his daughter a leading role, and while I'm sure he loves his little girl like any dad would, Bree is just absolutely god-awful. Brosnan, on the other hand, has enough of his old man's screen presence that he could probably have a future in DTV actioners. If Burns can nix the shaky-cam and deliver a sci-fi action flick that pairs up JCVD and young Brosnan, he might have something. (R, 101 mins)
(France/UK - 2012/2013 US release)
KILL LIST, which was very well-made but had a plot that was stale and predictable, a WICKER MAN retread with the filmmaker telegraphing the twists far too early. SIGHTSEERS is a major improvement. (Unrated, 88 mins)