Black Mountain Side (dir. Nick Szostakiwskyj)
What is it with Canada? Something about the long winters or overly friendly locals has created one of the strongest national horror legacies. From HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN to MAMA and even PONTYPOOL this country is churning out some of the world’s best horror films. BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE upholds this cinematic tradition with its version of the cabin in the woods story.
Far in the north during a deep Canadian winter a group of archaeologists are in the midst of a dig. The regular characters is scruffy woodsman are all there, along with a medical doctor, and locals to work as general helpers at the dig. After the crew discovers a seemingly impossible artifact they bring in a well-known archaeologist to help then excavate this mysterious item. As soon as the artifact is uncovered strange things start to happen in their little cabin. All of the locals take off for their reservation, though the trek there may be impassible in the winter weather. You can imagine what happens to the one pet cat at the cabin. When one of the crew members starts vomiting black sludge it is clear that these odd occurrences are no longer coincidental, and these men must now stick together and get to the bottom of their troubles if any of them are to make it out alive.
Much of this premise has already been told in film many times over. Comparisons to both THE CORRIDOR and THETHING are obvious and must have been anticipated by the filmmakers. However dealing in such familiar territory, director Szostakiwskyj instead leads into audience expectations and then plays with them. At many points in the film I thought I knew exactly what would be happening next, only to have the film take a jump in the story that I could not have predicted. I never felt fooled or betrayed, but rather I inched toward the screen to see what would happen next.
The camera work in BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE helps elevate the film above others. When the action picks up the camera often does one single take, following a character as they race across the snow to do what they can to stop everything from going to shit. The smooth shots make your heart pound because you are trapped by the frame. So often films cut quickly during action, and you are used to getting to the fun stuff quickly. But here, you are dragged along in real time, wishing that the camera would pick up the pace because you don’t want to wait any longer to catch up to the action. These shots leave the audience feeling just as helpless and filled with urgency as the characters.
With the creative use of long takes the film does not suffer from the pacing issues that can affect so many cabin in the woods movies. I find that those films can drag while our unsuspecting guests are awaiting their inevitable mayhem, but that does not happen here. These men go out and dig up their own trouble and the plot chugs along swiftly because of that.
The fact that these characters are all men is my only teeny issue with the film. Given the scientific nature of the dig there is no real reason that the cast has to be exclusively male. There are plenty of lady archaeologists and medical doctors, and the fact that this still needs to be stated in 2014 is my frustration. While there is racial and age diversity amongst the characters and cast, the fact that they are all men just irks me. I’m not saying that films need to have a balance of genders at all times, or that the lack of women negatively impacts the film, but I do see it as shortsightedness on behalf of the filmmakers.
Even with that said I have no issue with the film itself. In fact, it turned out to be one of my favorites from this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. When a horror film can leave my jaw literally hanging at several points in the plot, I know that I am not watching any ordinary film. Keep an eye out for BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE because it is a great surprise.