BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE (2014)
Review by Paul McMahon – “The Distracted Critic”
My attention span isn’t what it should be. As such, I rarely watch a movie from start to finish. If the action drags, if I start to feel antsy, I’ll pause it and walk away. I tally those “time outs” at the end of the column, so you’ll know how often the movie is likely to bore you. That is, if you’re anything like me. –The Distracted Critic
I love it when someone uses the phrase “not to be missed” to describe a movie I’ve never heard of. BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE (2014) came to my attention during a recent discussion about the best new horror movies. I asked around and discovered that very few people had heard of it, and of them, not one had actually seen it. Of course, I had to hunt it down for myself.
NORTHERN TAIGA CORDILLERA, CANADA; AREA POPULATION <100.
The relentless sound of wind overdubs the establishing shots of winter wilderness, cabins, generators, and fuel tanks. Inside one of the cabins, four men are betting on a hand of poker. These guys are striving for the cinematic muttering and mumbling championship. I hit the back button and activated the closed captioning. This didn’t exactly help matters, as the cc was on a 15 second delay.
We did not start out on the best of terms, this movie and I.
A helicopter lands in camp, bringing Professor Piers Olsen, an archeology professor and head of field research for the SAA. This annoys the camp leader, because he has to interrupt his video game to greet the man and show him around. We get quick introductions around the poker table, but the names don’t stick with us because all the men are wearing heavy coats and hats and you don’t get a good look at their faces.
Turns out these guys are on a scientific dig and have unearthed something very old, with very confusing markings and readings. The markings belong to a tribe only known to exist in South America. Olsen wonders how these things got here, but of course the crew doesn’t know. Part of their excavation is something that looks like a well, only it stretches beyond their abilities to measure its depth.
Add a quick info dump about the weather and the cinematically obligatory oncoming storm, and, twelve minutes in, we’re all caught up and on board with what’s happening. Supposedly.
Now we go into long minutes of guesswork and supposition as the team tries to figure out the origin of the artifacts they’ve found. There’s only one book on site, apparently, and lucky for them, it’s an archeology textbook. Unlucky for them, it’s just general enough that it doesn’t help them determine anything.
Surprise! One of the men has a cat on site. Predictably, the very next scene shows the cat brutally murdered at the well. No one wants to say the word “sacrifice,” but you know they’re all thinking it. As the leader, Jensen tries to determine who killed the cat by asking each man point-blank if they did it. They all say no. The camp cook says he saw McNaughton do it. Jensen asks McNaughton again, but he still says no. This is the extent of his mystery-solving abilities.
The men begin to experience headaches. The onsite doc diagnoses the flu.
The morning after they find the dead cat, they realize the natives they had digging for them (natives that have neither been mentioned nor seen before now) have fled the scene. This leaves the whole camp stuck, because apparently the camp’s men aren’t paid enough to dig, so their work stops. They sit around, nursing their headaches and trying to puzzle out what’s going on. Failing that, they return to trying to guess the nature of the things they’ve unearthed. When that gets boring, they try to discern the source of their headaches. Wells suddenly barfs black tar across the poker table.
Just like that, Jensen’s radio doesn’t work. He can’t reach anyone else. It’s like the rest of the world fell away. The regularly scheduled supply drop never shows. The men are totally on their own, and now their supplies are running out.
To make matters worse, some of them are starting to hear voices. The voices tell them to do nasty things.
The actors involved with this project are not well-known and have no memorable movies to their credits. This film will not put any of them on the map.
Likewise, writer/ director Nick Szostakiwskyj has not made a good showing for himself. The technical stuff, cinematography, editing, sound, and special effects (which are few and far between), are all solid. It’s the writing that falls flat. Or, more accurately, stays flat, since it never gets up and moving to begin with.
BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE is a movie chock-full of questions. Every time the camera turns or switches scenes, it kicks up more. I got the impression that Mr. Szos… Mr. S. believes he included answers in his script, but I couldn’t find them. Anywhere.
Truly, there was no following this film. It was a bunch of bearded white guys wearing hats that made them mostly indistinguishable. There was one black guy, Giles (Marc Anthony Williams), who acted surly and carried a rifle everywhere he went, which was the most character delineation in the whole film. There was one actor that kind of resembled Adam Driver (Shane Twerdun, who played Jensen), and another who looked like a tall Peter Dinklage (Michael Dickson, who played Professor Olsen). The rest were interchangeable, either judging by looks or by personality, because they all acted the same.
I’ll give Mr. S. one thing, he certainly used suspense and chatter to build a lot of creepy possibilities within the confines of this movie, but he resolved nothing and forgot to make a point. That’s what happened. He missed the point. This movie was a mess.
I’m glad I forgot which of my friends told me this film was “not to be missed.” If you’re reading this, please don’t tell me it was you. I will have to judge you. For everyone else, don’t waste your time.
I give BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE half a knife for some very pretty winter scenery, and many time outs. I stopped counting after 5.
© Copyright 2017 by Paul McMahon
Paul McMahon gives BLACK MOUNTAIN SIDE ~ half a knife.
And many time outs!