While the readership of Malevolent Dark continues to grow, to date only a few people in the circle actually make recommendations for content. I’d like to thank my friend and colleague, Chris, once again for supporting our work, as well as providing awesome material to review. His latest recommendation concerns a Canadian independent horror film called Black Mountain Side (2015). Under the studio banner A Farewell to Kings, Cameron Tremblay and Nicholas Szostakiwskyj produced the film. Nicholas also takes credit for directing the film. Filmed in British Columbia, this film tracks the discoveries and subsequent demise of a team of researchers looking for ancient cultures in the Arctic.
Black Mountain Side – A Discovery in the Ice
An isolated team of researchers encamped in the mountains in Canada discover an ancient structure buried under the ice. The structure is not exactly alien in nature, but it also doesn’t conform with any culture that should be found in this area. Shortly after the discovery, strange things begin to happen to the crew. First the excavation crew disappears. Mistrust sets in and the team slowly begins to turn on each other. The researchers unknowingly released an ancient evil.
Confronting the Obvious
Some quick research on the film quickly uncovered several veiled references to John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). To be honest, the similarities are uncanny and the reference is valid. Black Mountain Side bears many similarities to Carpenter’s work. Black Mountain Side concerns an all male crew, isolated in the frozen mountains. There is no place to run and the closest help is 90 miles away. Soon they lose trust in each other. One by one the they slip into the clutches of a malevolent power that takes over their minds and bodies.
At this point in the film it is fair to ask, “Are you down with this?” The similarities to The Thing are real, and Szostakiwskyj is not John Carpenter, yet. If this all proves too much to handle, cut and run. Those that stick around are in for a smart and suspenseful film with a few interesting surprises.
A Cast of Unknowns
The producers of Black Mountain Side employ a cast of relatively unknown actors. Overall, the acting isn’t great… but it’s really not bad either. If one picks apart each character’s arc with a microscope, weaknesses will be found, but there is more good than bad. Several very good performances uplift the less-impressive bits. As far as weaknesses go, the longer dialogs feel cumbersome and awkward. Moments of urgency and surprise seem to be the sweet-spot for the cast.
A few characters stand-out in the crowd. Professor Piers Olsen, played by Michael Dickenson provides an even keel for an otherwise listing ship. Francis Månro, played by Carl Toftfelt, does a tremendous job slipping and out of madness. Finally, Robert Michael Giles, played by Marc Anthony Williams, provides a dynamic counter-weight to an otherwise boring bunch of academics. I won’t spoil with details, but Giles’ final act is bone chilling in its cold-blooded execution.
Black Mountain Side presents a bit of a mixed bag. Cameron Tremblay is listed in the credits as Director of Photography. Many stunning shots do make it into the film. However, the film suffers from long stretches of mundane camera work. The indoor shots suffer the most. Many of of the camera angles suffer from a lack of depth. The producers intended this to create a sense of claustrophobia, but these scenes mostly felt boring and flat. Outdoors, expansive shots of the tree-lined mountains create a sense of sprawling isolation and showcase their stunning backdrop.
Black Mountain Side shares an unfortunate characteristic with many modern independent horror films. In previous generations, filmgoers lamented the grainy quality of 16mm film. In contrast, modern independent horror films suffer from the high fidelity of digital cameras. The effect feels somewhat sterile. Additionally, many frames in Black Mountain Side are fully in focus, further contributing to a flat sterile feel. I hate to be old fashioned, but sometimes great technology gets in the way of great independent horror films.
Other Technical Bits
Black Mountain Side is not a special effects extravaganza by any stretch. In fact, Szostakiwskyj focuses way more on the psychological interplay between the characters than special effects. However, the few areas where he applies these effects prove extremely effective. Accordingly, any scenes with gore stand out as explicit exclamation points delivered at key points in the film. Keep an eye out for various amputations and an occasional crushed skull.
Black Mountain Side doesn’t have a musical soundtrack. It does ooze with foreboding atmospherics and a general air of an oppressive and evil presence. These atmospherics drive tension, suspense and evoke the feeling of total desolation in a hostile environment. Interspersed throughout are moments of total background silence that sound deafening in contrast to the drone of the sound effects. It shows great work by Mark Dolmont, Sound Designer.
Black Mountain Side – A Clever Psychological Thriller
Nicholas Szostakiwskyj and Cameron Tremblay produced a very competent horror movie in Black Mountain Side. As we often say at Malevolent Dark, it isn’t perfect. I spent some time nitpicking several aspects of the film, and I stand by those criticisms. However, every misstep is counter-balanced by extreme competence and excellence in other areas.
Certainly it shares commonality with John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), but chalking it up as a clone feels lazy. For the most part, this film creates most of its scares without the benefit of a major movie monster. The psychological elements feel very authentic and a general feeling of malaise and despair permeates the air. Possibly it could have leveraged more in the special effects department, but I’ll defer to the directors discretion on that matter. We won’t spoil the ending, but it’s really good.
Black Mountain Side displays a sense of storytelling, atmosphere and technical competence that deserves to be seen. It tells a story of the dangers when modern society comes into contact with the past. It offers a glimpse of the dangers that occur when secrets hidden under years of dirt and ice are exposed. The film can currently be viewed on Amazon Prime for $2.99 to rent and $12.99 to buy. Support independent horror movies and check out Black Mountain Side.
Black Mountain Side (2015) - Clever Canadian Independent Horror - Malevolent Dark
Director: Nicholas Szostakiwskyj
Date Created: 2015-01-01 00:00