Directed by Tara AnaÃ¯se
Distributed by Gravitas Ventures
“Better late than never” is an expression that has been used in many instances – it simply states that it’s better to do something late, than never to have done it at all… and I can understand that, but only to a point. In a movie-sense, if it’s been done already and the same format has been reproducing like a couple of pharmaceutically-inspired jackrabbits on a blind date, then get ready for the furry fallout.
Amidst the pantheon of found-footage horror, it can be debated that The Blair Witch Project not only set, but also broke the mold for shaky-cam spookiness that has been often imitated but never duplicated for the past 15 years. Some have come close in their dogged pursuit to unseat the current (and long-standing) champion, but none have been able to capture the sheer volume of uneasiness that hounded our beloved camping troika on their venture into the Black Hills of Burkittsville, Maryland.
While nothing definitive was shown on-camera as to the root of the wooded terror, I always believed that it wasn’t necessarily what you saw that scared you the most, but what you didn’t, and I’m completely at ease with the fact that I’m in a small percentage of my thinking of this, but why is it that the majority of found-footage followers have attempted the same gameplan in the years following?
Dark Mountain – directed (and written) by Tara Anaise, follows yet another group of three budding filmmakers as they make their way to the Superstition Mountains that run deep into the Arizona desert. Their man focus is set upon the Lost Dutchman mine, that according to legend, is housing approximately 200 million dollars in gold after the rush in the late 1800s. Supposedly an old miner by the name of Jacob Waltz, was one of only a handful of souls that knew the location of the mineral windfall (alongside his partner that “disappeared” upon their first trek, and a group of Apache warriors that allegedly defended the location). The local storytellers entail that whomever goes up to the mountains to search for the gold, never come back… (cue ominous music).
Sage Howard (in her role as Kate), offers an eerie comparison to Heather Donahue in Blair Witch – her relentless approach to obtain the truth all the while acting as an unofficial leader of the group, right down to an opening shot of an apologetic, on-camera fear & tear-filled declaration to her parents. Boyfriend Paul (Andrew Simpson), the strong & silent type & prankster pal Ross (Shelby Stehlin) round out the remainder of our soon-to-be-doomed backpackers. Armed with their video cameras & smartphones (providing creepy sepia-toned shots), they set out into the vast masses of pure Arizonian desolation.
Now comes the part where I systematically dissect the ins & outs of this film in direct relation to its predecessor back in 1999… I mean I COULD do that, but I wouldn’t want to bore the audience to tears. Not that this is a bad movie – far from it… it just happened to have been seen already… 15 years ago. Our group initially frolics in their new surroundings, debates over both shooting styles and the local lores they’ve been told, and then we progress to the sights and sounds of what may (or may not be) the axis of their undoing. Quick flashes of light are seen on mountaintops in panoramic shots, giving the illusion to our band of pseudo-Scorseses that they could potentially be followed. We then progress on to the bickering, loss of direction, and all-out disregard to the simple-set of cardinal rules that will most assuredly ensure your safety when on a venture like this – when you’re told by a plethora of individuals “don’t take ANYTHING from the cave” …well then, there really isn’t any issue to debate now, is there? When one of the three becomes a victim of a type of possession, all guidelines are tossed out the window and we drive straight on past the road-sign for “psychological thriller,” and take the express exit towards “carbon-copy found-footage automaton.”
The saving grace here are the visuals – sprawling and sweeping vistas are on display with regularity, and provide a backdrop that gives the viewer not only a calming sense of peace, but an odd disparity that invokes a feeling of isolation, and at times, claustrophobia. Scares are minimal, but effective at times – a blaring radio that seems to go off at random instances will make you shift in your seat after slow-paced acts, and varying distant noises in the dead of night will give those little hairs on the back of your neck a chance to stand up and stretch. All of the following lead to a payoff that many can see coming, but you’ll sit through anyway just to see how it all ends up.
In closing, I can’t throw Dark Mountain under the bus, as Anaise does provide a semi-entertaining 82-minute jaunt into the unknown, I just can’t get over the fact that it was much more creepy the first time I’d seen it… 15 LONG years ago.
2 out of 5