Exclusive: Filmmaker Renny Harlin Takes Us Through Devil's Pass and More - Dread Central
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Exclusive: Filmmaker Renny Harlin Takes Us Through Devil’s Pass and More

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Exclusive: Filmmaker Renny Harlin Takes Us Through Devil's Pass and MoreThis past weekend director Renny Harlin saw his latest thriller, Devil’s Pass, arrive in limited theaters and on VOD platforms everywhere, and we have some insight from the man himself regarding the project.

Previously known as The Dyatlov Pass Incident (and still called by that title in the UK), Devil’s Pass is a found footage thriller that explores the desolate and deadly area of Russia now known as “Dyatlov Pass,” where in the 1950’s a group of travelers went missing, becoming ultimately one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the last 60 years.

Dread Central recently had the opportunity to chat exclusively with Harlin about his latest directorial effort, how he convinced his Devil’s Pass cast and crew to head into the middle of nowhere (literally), the tricks behind how he pulled off a devastating and impressive avalanche sequence in the indie thriller, and much more.

Dread Central: Did this film require a lot of research, and also, why did you opt to update the time frame to today versus the 1950’s?

Renny Harlin: I’ve been fascinated by what happened there for years now; it’s remained one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our time so I knew that in doing this movie, I was going to really have to do my research. My approach in researching what happened at Dyatlov in some ways informed how I told the story. I really didn’t think this was a story to tell in the 1950’s, which is when the incident occurred, as I thought that setting would alienate audiences a bit. I wanted them to be hooked into the story, not distracted by the setting, and because I used a lot of modern devices and tools when doing my research, I thought keeping the story modern would be a little more interesting.

I also went through the archives in Moscow, and after everything I read, I still couldn’t believe that there isn’t one logical explanation for what happened to those people. Even after all this time and all the progress we’ve made in research, scientists still cannot explain what happened to these skiers; there have only been guesses, but there’s really no theory that exists that makes any kind of sense. It’s incredible.

Dread Central: Because this is based on a real story without an ‘ending,’ did that allow you a little more freedom creatively for the third act in Devil’s Pass then?

Renny Harlin: It did in some ways, but I also wanted to keep things realistic too just because that’s how we approached this story. I did feel like I was allowed some liberties though so I just made sure they kept in line with everything we were doing; it is sort of my own theory that you see in this but maybe a little bit ‘bigger’ of an explanation at the same time. If I had to guess what really happened, I would say that there was a military experiment that went wrong and the government there has spent years doing what they can to keep it from being discovered. It’s really the only logical explanation I’ve got.

Dread Central: Gemma Atkinson is an actress I really enjoy seeing in films and thought this was a wholly new role for her; can you discuss working with her and what made her the perfect fit for Devil’s Pass?

Renny Harlin: She’s just wonderful, isn’t she? The funny thing is that when we started casting, we really wanted to keep the cast as ‘unknown’ as possible, but because we had such talented people involved, that became really hard because a few of these actors have begun to come into their own as performers so people are noticing them now. Gemma included.

And when you’re making a movie like Devil’s Pass, you have to know that your actors and your crew are going to be willing to be put through hell during the shoot. And these conditions were extreme; we were in a northern part of Russia where they spend about nine months of the year buried under feet of snow and about 11 months mostly in the dark. We battled everything you could think of to make this movie – 20 feet of snow even – and while it was really difficult, I think it was really fitting considering the kind of movie we were making. I love that kind of challenge personally, and I think Gemma did too. I miss her; I would love to work with her again.

Dread Central: I’m not sure if this is going to make much sense or not, but I wanted to ask because Cliffhanger is another great movie that you made that was filmed in less than ideal conditions for some of the shoot- as a filmmaker, do you have to change up your approach between a movie like that and Devil’s Pass, or is it all intrinsically the same?

Renny Harlin: Oh, they were both made so differently; with Cliffhanger I could rely on my own bag of tricks where you get a small time to rehearse and then you go shoot for five hours. In the case of Devil’s Pass, the opposite was true; we’d spend hours and hours rehearsing just to do a 15-minute take. I really wanted to eliminate as much editing as possible so that the way we made this film also felt organic to the way were telling this story.

It’s interesting though; the way we approached Devil’s Pass definitely changed the dynamic on set too, and I think it almost gave the actors more freedom too. I didn’t want them to feel confined to what was on the page; I wanted them to use the experience of making the movie as part of their performance because they were struggling just as much as the rest of us, and when you’re that cold and need to focus on doing fifteen minutes straight of dialogue, interesting things tend to happen. I wanted to make sure we captured all of it.

Dread Central: I know you guys didn’t have a huge budget for Devil’s Pass so I wanted to ask how in the hell you pulled off that avalanche scene? That was pretty incredible and really terrifying too.

Renny Harlin: That was so, so hard; we had to shoot it in the middle of the night towards the start of the day, and we really only had about 15 minutes where we could shoot to get the light right because the rest of the time was darkness. When you’re making a movie like this, you can’t really rely on things like lighting and that kind of stuff so you’re at the mercy of nature.

That scene was probably the one we spent the most time designing, and I think it took us like five days to shoot it out completely. It really was like getting the scene piece by piece because of the timing. But we really made a small avalanche through the use of snow machines and only a little bit of VFX work. The irony to that scene was that while were shooting, there were avalanches all the time; we just never were able to shoot any of those. I would say that sequence was the most ambitious thing I’ve done- until Hercules, that is. Hercules is something else completely (laughs).

Synopsis
Devil’s Pass follows a group of students on a trek to investigate the true life mystery of nine Russian skiers who befell an unexplained death while skiing in the Russian mountains in 1959. To this day, their deaths have been one of the most bizarre unsolved mysteries of the 20th century.







Devil's Pass

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Like Me – Will You Like This Dystopian Thriller?

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Starring Addison Timlin, Ian Nelson, Larry Fessenden

Directed by Robert Mockler


While Like Me is not dystopian in the classic science-fiction sense, it does aptly put the downer vibe across. If the present is abysmal, then the future is downright hopeless. We learn this as we follow an unhinged teenage loner called Kiya (Addison Timlin) on a hollow crime spree that she broadcasts on social media. At first the world “likes” her—with the exception of YouTube rival Burt (Ian Nelson), who disdainfully denounces her viral videos—but pride goes before the fall, and Kiya’s descent is spectacular.

If you’ve peeped the trailer for Like Me, then you’re probably expecting a horror movie. I mean, they’ve got the requisite menacing masked baddie and they’ve got genre icon Larry Fessenden in a major role—those are a couple of the key ingredients, right? Yes they are, but this simmering, shimmering stew of Natural Born Killers, Excision and King Kelly, it boils down to a whole lotta nothing. Like Me is sort of a drama, kind of a road trip flick, and almost a thriller. It succeeds at none yet does stand on its own as a compelling collection of cool visuals and pertinent performances. But is that enough?

While Kiya is a compelling character on the surface, there’s barebones beneath. Sure, she’s a Millennial mind-fed on random online clips and snappy soundbites—but what turned her into a psychopath? Was she born that way? Is social media to blame? We’ll never know, because not a hint is given. I don’t mind ambiguity, but even a morsel would have been welcome in this case. As Kiya ramps up her reckless exhibitionistic extremes, the stakes are never raised. In the end, who cares? Maybe that’s the point.

A word of warning: If you plan on watching this movie while chomping snacks…don’t. There is stomach-turning scene after vomit-inducing scene of orgiastic easting, binging, and the inevitable purging. I’m sure it’s all metaphorical mastication, a cutting comment on disposable consumption. I get it. But I don’t wanna look at it, again and again and again. Having said that, Like Me is an experimental film and in its presentation of such grotesquery, it’s quite accomplished. Montages, split-screens and jittered motions are scattered throughout, showing us all sorts of unpleasant things…Kudos to the editor.

I didn’t hate Like Me. But I do think one has to be in the mood for a movie such as this. It’s not an easy or entertaining watch, but it is a peculiar and thought-provoking one. There’s some style and mastery behind the camera, and I am curious to see what first-time writer-director Rob Mockler comes up with next.

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Last Toys on the Left

Funko Giving Jurassic Park the Pop! Treatment as Only They Can

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It is no secret we’re BIG fans of Funko’s Pop! Vinyl line here at DC HQ, and now they’ve announced a new series that has made our hearts just about burst… read on for a look at Pop! Movies: Jurassic Park, heading our way in February. The regular figures are awesome on their own, but wait until you see the exclusives!

From the Funko Blog:
Jurassic Park fans, get excited! To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the iconic film’s appearance on the silver screen, Jurassic Park is coming to Pop!

This series of Pop! features paleontologist Dr. Grant, Jurassic Park CEO John Hammond, mathematician Dr. Malcolm, and embryo-smuggler Dennis Nedry. (Keep an eye out for Dr. Ellie Sattler in Pop! Rides coming soon.)

We couldn’t forget the Jurassic Park dinosaurs! Featured in this line are the great T. rex, Velociraptor, and Dilophsaurus. Look for the Dilophosaurus chase, a rarity of 1-in-6.

Be on the lookout for exclusives. At Target you can find a wounded Dr. Malcolm, and the Dennis Nedry and Dilophosaurus 2-pack is available only at Entertainment Earth.

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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review

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Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo

Directed by Colin Bemis


Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.

The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.

As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.

Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.

In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.

On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.

In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.

Until then, check out the film’s trailer HERE, and follow the movie on Facebook.

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Summary

Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.

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