Fear is in the air.
Sara (Jessica Lowndes, 90210) survived a plane crash when she was a child, the same crash that took the life of her mother, the pilot. Years later, Sara follows in mom’s footsteps and gets her own pilots license. While flying a group of friends over several states in a small twin-engine plane for a fun weekend trip, something goes horribly wrong. A storm comes up out of nowhere, one that Sara can’t seem to fly out of. The plane malfunctions, the instrument readings make no sense, and an unseen force lurks outside the plane, threatening those inside.
Altitude is notable for two reasons. One is because it stars the unhinged awesomeness that is Jessica Lowndes. Why she isn’t a bigger star, I’ll never know. The other is that it was directed by comic book artist Kaare Andrews (Spider-Man: Reign), adding him to small-but-growing club of comic folks who’ve made the jump to film.
This is another entry in the “trapped in a confined space” thriller category, made popular with flicks like Open Water and Frozen. There have been countless airplane thrillers before, but this one is different in that it’s a tiny plane with only seven seats all almost no room to move inside. The black and grey oppressive clouds outside contribute to the claustrophobic “nowhere to run” feeling that makes this subgenre so well liked.
When Altitude reaches new heights:
• Some might balk at the thought of the pretty and young Jessica Lowndes being cast as an airplane pilot, but I felt she sold it, rattling off the airline-speak with ease. More importantly, she’s the character who has to maintain order and keep everyone safe, no matter how insane things get up there, and she portrayed this with ease as well.
• Andrews and his team did a great job of making the most of the cramped plane’s interior, never making the movie feel dull or repetitive. The entire movie zips along at a fast pace, so that there’s no “down times” that often plague these kinds of movies.
When Altitude sinks:
• The characters inside the plane with Sara are stock types. There’s the doting boyfriend, the lunkheaded party boy, the artsy girl with a camera who has to film everything, and the shy yet troubled intellectual. The creators throw in a lot of character development, in that most everyone on the plane has a secret that comes out during the flight. Character development is good, but this isn’t handled with much subtlety. There are times when the life-threatening action screeches to a halt so the characters discuss their troubled pasts, it felt forced.
• If you’re one of those folks who like a plausible scientific explanation for everything in a movie, and you insist that absolutely everything in every movie be completely realistic, you might walk away disappointed.
Although a couple of the green screen effects are a little obvious, the picture on the DVD is sharp, making the most of the grey and blue colors on screen. The audio is good as well, with booming thunder and roaring engines to keep the action moving. The disc has a ton of bonus features, providing pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about the making of the movie. Andrews provides a fact-filled commentary, and this is followed by a massive four-part documentary that shows how the movie was a labor of love for everyone involved. A green screen featurette fast-forwards through the entire movie before the special effects were added, to give you a look at Altitude in it rough form. The theatrical trailer is also included.
These days, most low-budget genre thrillers are zero-quality SyFy stinkfurters, so it’s refreshing to see one in the same style, but made by people who actually care about the movie they’re making. Altitude isn’t perfect, but it’s better than others of its kind. Check it out.