Donner Pass


One thing we, as horror fans, tend to do is root for the bad guy.

There are a variety of factors that might cause this. Is it because we’re all twisted?  Well, we’re all must be a little twisted to enjoy seeing maiming and freak shows that we love to watch, but there’s something more to it than that, something we can’t control.

Some times we find ourselves rooting for the bad guy because they’ve transcended a level of antagonism, they’ve become a chaotic anti-hero. We’ve seen the recurring “big bad” in so many films, it’s why we keep coming back for more and we want to see him triumphant. The best examples of course are Friday the 13th‘s Jason Voorhees and Halloween‘s Michael Meyers. Another reason that we start to root for the bad guy is because the cast in the film is so utterly despicable that watching them meet their maker in the most gruesome way possible is the only reason we want to sit through the rest of the movie.

I found myself in the second category watching Donner Pass, which has quite an interesting premise. It deals with the idea that the members of the Donner party didn’t so much cannibalize out of necessity but because of they were afflicted with a curse attached to the area that anyone who “consumed flesh” becomes a mindless killer. Now, with a set up as intriguing as this is I wish the film had taken it a step further and not gone the direction of “teenagers go to the mountains and stay in a cabin,” although this overused plot device is handled well.

There are a lot of things going on in this movie to the point that the structure of the film feels lopsided. It seems like the flick is 70% slasher movie, 20% a weird I Spit on your Grave-esque subplot, and 10% a zombie movie. It sticks with the template of a slasher for most of the movie, which kept me watching, but it made a monumental mistake. The kills are stifled.  Sure, you see a tiny bit of the gore and aftermath of the kill, but they dance around the kills to the point that it’s annoying.

Director Elise Robertson does a great job of melding all of these stories into the same movie. She creates an atmosphere with the character drama that keeps the movie interesting before throwing it head first into the horror of the story. There is one likable character in the movie, though I couldn’t help but feel cheated when the rest of the film’s colossal jackasses get murdered and I don’t get to relish in it. Having said, that though some of the deaths in the movie have some very stunning camera work. There is a scene in particular in a hot tub that has some of the best underwater cinematography I’ve ever seen, which is not something I would expect anyone to say about a movie that takes place on a snowy mountain.

Along with the very beautiful albeit gruesome camera work the movie just has some great production value. The cabin the kids stay in is a very modern looking homestead which I think helps separate it from other “cabin in the woods” movies. The exterior scenes are something to marvel at as well, the whole landscape is beautiful and it really juxtaposes itself with the brutality of what’s going on in the movie well.

I had a lot of fun watching Donner Pass.  It’s a predictable story but still an entertaining flick that I’d say is worth a watch.

Rating: 7 out of 10