The Dyatlov Pass Incident
Written by Vikram Weet
Directed by Renny Harlin
The contest between scepticism and belief in the supernatural is a reliable means of drawing out a narrative before any sort of big reveal. It’s a dynamic through which the television classic The X-Files operated, featuring the passionate Fox Mulder, who worked to convince cohort Dana Scully of “the truth.” Around this back-and-forth between two audience surrogates situates the dubious involvement of man: how much do the higher-ups truly know about what is going on, and what are they keeping from us?
Renny Harlin’s The Dyatlov Pass Incident borrows a few of these tricks. Its fictional found-footage accompanies a group of five American hikers into the Ural Mountains as they retrace the steps of nine souls who died in mysterious, real-life circumstances some 50 years ago. Hypothermia, avalanches, and other possible causes of death have since been ruled out, so through trial and error, it becomes increasingly plausible to hold a Yeti to blame, or something more hideous and man-made.
Found-footage films have fast become a tiresome trend over the past decade, with scarce few treading newer ground since The Blair Witch Project. Harlin strives for a little more ambition by setting his film in a frost-bitten location that appears doubly unsafe for the characters and their actors. The perilous location feeds into our faux-assumption that this is real footage, though the knock-on effect encourages the audience to look for ways in which the tenets of the found-footage rule are sneakily broken. This is one way in which the found-footage genre is almost unintentionally Brechtian; it virtually implores the viewer to look for holes in its own construction in ways that other films do not. It can’t help but invite our scrutiny.
Dyatlov may seem as if it’s learned new tricks, but it’s fundamentally the same old dog. There’s the usual clichés: footprints in the snow, a “What’s that noise?” caution, and the aforementioned arguments between sceptics and believers. These debates are helpfully upholstered by the film’s trickling of clues that implicate nature – by way of the avalanche – and man – through a hidden door in the ice. We’re kept guessing to the last minute over who, or what, is responsible. It’s a shame, then, that the mystery is drowned in grating bickering between these five young hikers, with too much focus on character conflicts arising from indistinguishable personalities.
Written by Adam Green
Directed by BJ McDonnell
There’s bickering in Hatchet III, too, waged less between teenagers than grown men acting like teenagers, and therefore, it’s considerably more amusing. The demonic Victor Crowley is back for one last, glorious massacre. Judging by the squealing ragtag band of law-enforcers tasked to track him down, it’s hard to see how the butcher will be put away for good. One or two cops drop their usual tough-guy posturing and openly plea to retreat; their cowardice is contrasted by mean, bald-headed squad leader Hawes, whose job it is to snap these small fries into shape and have them power on toward the final fight. The squabbling here is tenfold more entertaining than that of Dyatlov, primarily because nobody here is a sceptic; they all know Crowley is out there, but where their beliefs differ is in how much confidence they have in their own ability to survive in his presence.
With so much time spent in the company of these men, it can be easy to forget about the hero of the Hatchet franchise. Danielle Harris’ Marybeth, still covered in the blood of Crowley from the last film, spends most of this film either locked in a jail cell or in the back of a police car, never shifting from her stone-faced, traumatised disposition. Because the entire film – coming in at a slight 81 minutes – is entirely focused on both the police trail of Crowley, and Marybeth’s overlong car ride, Hatchet III can seem like something of a non-event despite the status of the franchise as a mainstay festival staple. Writer Adam Green introduced the film as the third act in one overall film, and he may be right, though it feels more akin to a season finale to a television series, a big boss battle, and a reunion special in which fan service is indulged through multiple cameos and references to previous installments.
Still, one can’t fault the presentation. One of the most unashamedly fun films at Frightfest so far in terms of live audience reaction, Hatchet III excels at its stock and trade in practical gory effects. Men and women are mangled, decapitated, sawed in half – one even has his skull and spinal cord removed from his stomach, leaving his head to deflate into a mass of empty skin. The film is a retro-tinged joy, replete in nothing more than a big bad having his fun before having the tables turned against his favour. Judging by the rapturous reception, such wanton destruction is enough to send the fans home happy.
Written by Anis Shlewet
Directed by Kit Ryan
United Kingdom, 2013
The title of Dementamania is a substantial clue to the hodgepodge nature of the film. An amalgam of “demented mania,” the word is somewhat of a spoiler alert for a last-act revelation the film mistakenly believes to be an unexpected and, worryingly, a ground-breaking development. Director Kit Ryan inserts a last-gasp psychological twist that audiences have endured countless times before, attempting to validate his “Everything is not as it seems” narrative with a coda that outlines what was and wasn’t real.
Borrowing heavily from the worst aspects of Fight Club and American Psycho, Dementamania spends a few days in the life of Edward (Sam Robertson), a London office worker who steps on a fly one morning and spends the rest of the day unfathomably irritated by every small crumb of minutiae. Queues in sandwich shops, churlish co-workers, and the order/disorder of pens on his desk – it’s Seinfeld by way of psychosis. The originating spark, though, is seen to fire up from the actions of Edward’s ex Laura (Holly Weston), whom he had previously caught cheating in his bed. All events are completely subjective, presenting Edward’s reality as different from that of everyone else, which results in all female characters presented as sluts and regarded as such by every male. Whether the film shares this view beyond its gratuitous encouragement is up for debate.
Edward’s cringe-worthy voiceover explains how empty his life is, though we rarely see anything to visually persuade us of this fact. The direction has all the style of a television soap, skewed apart in various tangents wherein Edward imagines committing violent acts against strangers and fellow co-workers. These bloody episodes are a sharp relief from the unoriginal plodding of the film’s overall arc, but they become overly repetitive through their quick succession and minimal variation. Robertson overeggs his irritation somewhat, a permanent scowl scrawled across his face as if separate registers of emotion were foreign concepts. It’s his private experience overall, and although the audience are invited into the delusion, we nevertheless occupy a distance, dumbfounded as to where this man is coming from and why we are expected to deem it compelling.
FILM4 FrightFest is the UK’s premiere international fantasy and horror film festival. The festival, now in its 14th year, attracts thousands of genre fans each August to the heart of London’s West End and the prodigious Empire Cinema, for five packed days of premieres, previews, personal appearances, signings and surprises. Visit their website for more info.