(director: Renny Harlin; screenwriter: Vikram Weet; cinematographer: Denis Alarcon Ramirez; editor: Steven Mirkovich; music: Yuri Poteyenko; cast: Holly Goss (Holly King), Matt Stokoe (Jensen Day), Luke Albright (JP Hauser), Ryan Hawley (Andy Thatcher), Gemma Atkinson (Denise Evers), Nelly Nielsen (Alya at 73), (Al Valeriva Fedorovich ya at 20), Nikolav Butenin (Sergei), Jane Perry (Prof. Kittles); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Alexander Rodnyansky, Sergei Bespalov, Sergey Melkumov, Kia Jam, Renny Harlin; IFC Films/DPI Productions; 2013-UK/Russia-in English & Russian)

“Another Blair Witch knockoff film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Finnish filmmaker Renny Harlin (“Cleaner”/”Driven”), an action maven of uneven results, makes the most of this found-footage horror pic. It’s another Blair Witch knockoff film, that’s inspired by a real incident. Writer Vikram Weet keeps it moving along as serviceable entertainment.

The low-budget horror pic tells us that in 1959 the young Russian sportsman Igor Dyatlov led an expedition into the remote northern Ural mountains with eight other skiers and mountain climbers and they all mysteriously died together one evening. Radiation covered one of them, one had his tongue ripped out, two were with crushed skulls and another with cracked ribs. 
In a below-zero night they were all scantily dressed and huddled together outside their tents when they died. The Russian authorities ruled that there was no foul play and said the cause of their death was hypothermia, but noted there were signs of excessive natural force. The real-life incident, known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident, was never solved and over the years conspiracy theories were raised that it might have been an alien attack.

In 2008, students at the University of Oregon heard about it and the Americans decided to revisit the area and film it as an adventure. Through a teacher (Jane Perry) at the college they received a government grant. Filmmaker Jensen Day (
Matt Stokoe) and the audio engineer (Gemma Atkinson) would record their expedition, while their leader would be the obsessed for a long time with the mystery, the psych college student Holly King (Holly Goss). The others joining the group were mountain climbers Andy Thatcher (Ryan Hawley) and the adventurer climber JP Hauser (Luke Albright).

There’s a flashback to the doomed Russian climbers and an envisioning of what might have happened to them in 1959. Then there’s the present group warned by the locals in the nearby city to go back and when not listening find themselves stuck in a windy and inhospitable spot bickering with each other whether to go on with the trip or go back home. It concludes with a creepy incident inside a mountain bunker, filled with top secret military documents of international cover-ups and with execution chambers.  The whole thing might be absurd but it kept my attention, as the unsolved mystery ends with more mystery and gloom for the ill-fated adventurers. In any case, it’s an improved version of the fake found footage films like “Blair Witch,” as its desolate atmosphere sets a proper chilling tone for the bizarre story.

REVIEWED ON 2/19/2018       GRADE: B-