Black Mountain Side is a frustrating experience. This Canadian horror film – which made its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival – has such a difficult time finding its own identity and groove, but I know its heart is in the right place. Also, it unfortunately comes in the wake of Blood Glacier, which posits a similar set-up (something ancient in the ice causes havoc) and brings more enthusiasm and ingenuity to the table than this film.
Black Mountain Side is definitely one of those movies where the parts work better than the whole, and, it works when it’s not taking its cues from John Carpenter’s The Thing handbook. In spite of its fitful attempts to do something different, it still keeps going back around to familiar beats: Want Thing-like paranoia? You got it. Want a moment in which one crew member goes a bit bonkers forcing his colleagues to lock him up? You got that, too. Cellular infection and transformation? It’s all here, but keep it within the budget, please.
There’s an all-male cast (a lot of beards on display) and they’re part of a research outpost. At first, they uncover some ancient pottery. This relic paves the way for the discovery of a much larger find: The corner of a equally ancient stone structure that has been buried by time and ice (now that I think about it, it’s sort of like Stephen King’s “The Tommyknockers” and the discovery of the section of alien spacecraft sticking out of the round). The outpost team call upon an expert named Peter Olsen to aid them in their research. Peter proves to be a good conduit for tons of exposition, but he also balances it out with scenes in which he’s literally asking nothing but questions to help others dish exposition.
As the investigation into their findings go on, peculiar things begin to occur. Their Native American helpers, for instance, bail out. A cat is slaughtered (probably in a worse way than that cat from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Then, the researchers start to getting ill and go a bit bonkers. And at the center of it all is a promising mythology, but Black Mountain Side can’t settle on which one it wants to go with.
Also missing identities are the characters. Again, we get hints of who they are, but they’re a pretty flat bunch. We know one is going to Florida when he gets a break and that there’s also a frustrated type of dude who doesn’t do much work. Those are the most significant points I made note of. I figured Peter would be the glue to this ensemble, but he doesn’t bring any extra character shades to this ensemble.
What I’ll tell you is that it’s never boring. Writer-director Nick Szostakiwskyj keeps the pace tight and the plot moving and there are a few fun, gruesome reveals along the way. I just wish the story’s foundation inspired him in less “nostalgic for The Thing” ways. Also, this film’s ending…I don’t know if it was a giant “fuck you” to its audience or if it just ran out of steam, but it’s a doozy.
I see this one getting snapped up by IFC or Anchor Bay, so stay tuned for release details.