Directed by Renny Harlin
“Guily pleasure” B-Movie master Renny Harlin takes another dip into the horror genre with The Dyatlov Pass Incident (retitled Devil’s Pass for US audiences), and winds up delivering a thoroughly intriguing mash-up of sci-fi, horror and real-life mystery.
Taking the central premise from the a very real occurrence in the Ural mountains in 1959, which saw the mysterious deaths of nine hikers in the snow-laden pass which later became named after the leader of the ill-fated group. Investigations into what exactly caused these nine deaths have all come up with little answers despite the fact that two of the deceased had fractured skulls, others had broken ribs, and one was missing her tongue — yet none showed outward signs of impact injury or struggle. With the official verdict since 1959’s inquest conceding that the deaths were caused by “a compelling natural force”, the Dyatlov Pass Incident has been the focus of studies, theories and literature both fictional and factual ever since.
In Harlin’s take on the material, we follow a group of young student filmmakers, led by Holly (Goss) as they decide to head off into the Urals to make a documentary and attempt to unravel the mystery. Along the way, they encounter locals both friendly and unfriendly, before events begin to take a turn for the worse with the discovery of a severed tongue in a disused weather station. Shortly after arrival at the titular pass, a hidden blast door — sealed from the outside — is discovered in the side of the mountain, and from there the mind-bending mystery segues into pulse-pounding horror.
In terms of construction, The Dyatlov Pass Incident is a found footage/mockumentary hybrid, yet thankfully short on shakey-cam until the chaotic finale. Harlin keeps a solid grasp on the pace of the proceedings, with the interest of those unfamiliar with the real-life occurrence likely to be easily enthralled throughout the explanatory first act. While the characters of our core group aren’t given a whole lot to do in terms of internal loggerheads, they do come across as a likeable group of genuine friends that wind up biting off more than they can chew — and, refreshingly, don’t make a consistent stream of poor decisions (except, perhaps, not high-tailing it out of there when inexplicable bare footprints show up in the snow around their camp).
To give away too much would spoil the payoff here, but suffice to say that The Dyatlov Pass Inciden is a pleasantly involving, well constructed piece of work and despite the trappings of its found footage nature, Harlin manages to throw a few moments of surprisingly grand spectacle into the mix, and a particular explanation of the mystery of the events at the titular location that is unlikely to be guessed by anyone who hasn’t read hints of it beforehand. It isn’t entirely satisfying, however, sporting an out-and-out horror-centric climax that, while tense and exciting, is horribly marred by a reliance on CGI similar to the creatures in Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend, and one suspects that the sequence of events that form the finale may not entirely hold up to deeper scrutiny. Regardless, The Dyatlov Pass Incident is an understated flick that you’ll be thinking about for a while afterwards, and which also has the benefit of opening the book on one of history’s strangest conundrums for those not already aware of the events discussed.
3 1/2 out of 5