Frankly, this thriller is a bit behind the curve in its storytelling, so even though it's a solidly well-made example of the found-footage genre, it feels derivative and tired. The script cleverly weaves in real historical events to make it a lot more intriguing, but the screenwriter seems to run out of ideas before the end, resorting to horror cliches and grisly effects that feel rather corny.
The true story took place in February 1959, when nine hikers disappeared while hiking in the snowy Ural mountains. When their bodies were discovered, they had mysterious internal injuries that didn't match their external wounds. The mystery has never been solved, so for her final project, American psychology student Holly (Goss) decides to investigate, travelling to Russia to shoot a documentary with film student Jenson (Stokoe), sound recordist Denise (Atkinson) and two perky mountaineering experts (Albright and Hawley). But when they start climbing to the icy pass, strange things begin to happen around them. Then they stumble into something shocking.
Director Harlin has a great time cranking up a sense of doom, with gleeful references to sinister Soviet experiments, alien sightings and even the existence of a yeti. The locals taunt these too-curious Yanks with tales about the "Mountain of the Dead". And their expedition is intercut with archive photos and footage of the original 1959 hikers. So there's a real sense that these intrepid students could find pretty much anything up there. And since we see everything through Jenson's camera, there's a real sense of wonder about the expansive beauty of the wintry Urals. Meanwhile, the lively young cast has a lot of fun bringing the characters to life through some soapy romantic entanglements and hints of various back-stories.
But of course, they have to discover something in the pass, and when we finally begin to see the nastiness lurking there the film loses its steam. As always, hinting at something nefarious is much more suspenseful than actually showing it. So the film's suggestive first half is a lot more fun to watch. That said, Harlin has assembled a found-footage horror-thriller that looks much better than we expect, and the grisly finale at least goes somewhere we could never predict. So even if the ending isn't hugely satisfying, we've had some nerve-wracking fun along the way.
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Director: Renny Harlin
Screenwriter: Vikram Weet