Scientists in remote snowy locations doing science-y stuff always ends badly.
Archeologists working in an isolated area in Canada, uncover an ancient structure, and soon afterward the team begins behaving in strange and dangerous ways.
First let me say that Black Mountain Side had the potential to be one of those enigmatic films like The Thing. Carpenter’s classic ’80s sci-fi sets the atmosphere from the very beginning, with a compelling story, and characters whose lives I cared about. Unfortunately, Black Mountain Side never really tells a cohesive story, or provide characters that I connected with in any meaningful way.
There were bits and pieces of Black Mountain Side that were downright brilliant, and writer/director Nick Szostakiwskyj has got some skills that at times were on display for all to see. However, the main problem with Szostakiwskyj’s first feature length film, is the script itself. The story moves along at a deliberate pace, which I normally don’t mind, but the slow pacing here is coupled with a convoluted story line that never really connects all the dots, and scenes that go absolutely nowhere.
For example, the archeology team uncovers this ancient structure made by a culture who, according to all the experts, never lived in this particular area. So an expert, Professor Peirs Olsen (Michael Dickson), is brought in to shed some light on this mystery.
Now this is where it appeared the film would kick into gear. Instead, we get at least five or six scenes where one archeologist or another is simply standing around the edifice, pontificating theories on how the structure could possibly have gotten there. Once, maybe; twice, sure, but nearly a half dozen times is overkill.
And when things finally do kick into gear, it comes out of nowhere, so much so, I had to rewind the film because I thought I might’ve missed a key plot point — I didn’t. One minute a guy is sitting at a table shootin’ the breeze, then all of a sudden, he’s vomiting up black goo, and writhing around the place all hopped up on some ancient bacteria that was released when the structure was dug up; at least that was one of the unproven theories discussed.
When a movie takes its time getting to the point, at least the ride there better be a good. I harken back to the 2013 film Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern. It’s a film with little action, but a fantastic story, and actors who can command the screen even when not much else is happening around them. The actors in Black Mountain Side aren’t slouches at all, they are all decent actors. But it takes a powerhouse performance to keep the intensity happening even while the film itself isn’t doing much at all. Unfortunately these particular actors weren’t able to sustain the kind of intensity needed to hold my interest while the film found its way.
Still there are several reasons to give Black Mountain Side a chance. There’s one scene in particular that makes this film worth watching. The scene is set up beautifully and happens in one shot, with no edits. It is so skillfully done, had Szostakiwskyj used that kind of expertise throughout the entire film, this could’ve been a fantastic movie.
The scene takes place after nearly everyone in camp is affected, or infected by this bacterial entity that seems to emanate from the ancient structure. Marc Anthony Williams, plays Giles, up to this point his performance was one note — and that note was loud. Every line uttered was as if he were hard of hearing, he did a lot of yelling to show his anger, instead of “acting” angry. But in this scene he uses a subtlety that would’ve been wise to use throughout his entire performance.
He is taken over by this infection and goes through camp methodically shooting whoever he happens to see. The camera follows along as he moves from person to person, and cabin to cabin, annihilating his colleagues one by one. The whole thing is flawless; and at one point Giles stops, reloads and lets out a little laugh that is creepy, but a perfect addition to the scene.
Another plus is the way Szostakiwskyj visualizes this bacterial creature. Because of budget limitations, had we seen too much of this being, it would hardly have been scary. But Szostakiwskyj uses lighting and shadow so well that the creature is quite frightening.
Initially, I wasn’t too taken with Black Mountain Side, but after mulling over the film for a while, I began to appreciate the efforts of Szostakiwskyj, and the cast of relative unknowns. It’s the kind of film where parts of the film are far more enjoyable than the whole.
Honorable mention goes to Michael Dickson who gets an A+ for the best hair by far of anyone in the film. In fact, better than anyone I can recall seeing in any film of recent memory. He’s also one of the better actors in the cast.
Black Mountain Side is a 2.39:1 widescreen presentation, beautifully shot with the Red Epic camera, that caught the brutal grayness of a Canada winter. The Dolby 5.1 Surround was wonderful, highlighting a nice subtle soundtrack, with dialogue that was crystal clear. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a director’s commentary.
I love finding little indy films that allow new and upcoming filmmakers a chance to shine. Black Mountain Side, although not a brilliant movie, has enough going for it that I would recommend giving it a chance.
For all its potential: Not Guilty.
Black Mountain Side (DVD)
2016, Monarch Home Entertainment, 99 minutes, NR (2016)
VIDEO: 2.40:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) SUBTITLES: English
EXTRAS: Commentary, Featurettes ACCOMPLICES: IMDB