I’m a sucker for a movie that goes bigger than it needs to, and there are few things I love more than a simple, straightforward horror flick wrapped around a big, weird idea. Unfortunately, in the relatively low-budget world of modern horror cinema, the Big Idea often seems to be pretty anathema to a genre crowded thick with budget-friendly slashers, serial killers, vampires, cannibals, zombies, and ghosts in dark eyeliner.
The Big Idea seems to work particularly well in the otherwise anemic found footage subgenre. The inherently more intimate feeling of found footage, combined with the implied “true story” conceit of the format, work together to make the Big Ideas feel even bigger when they hit. Want an example of a found footage Big Idea done right? Check out 2010’s Troll Hunter, one of the only truly great films to come out of the found footage boom.
Devil’s Pass is not a truly great film, but luckily for it there’s a particularly Big Idea waiting in its final reel, one that goes a long way toward making the formulaic ascent worth the climb. For most of the running time, you get pretty much what you’ve no doubt come to expect from a Renny Harlin horror picture; a lot of formula, a little bit of cheese, and some decently high rent production values. There’s even the occasional moment of surprising restraint, such as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it early shot of the film’s creatures in the background, without any attention being drawn to them with either camera or sound.
It isn’t until the film’s final moments that the Big Idea begins to manifest, starting with a door in the mountainside, an image that has been evocative since at least Tolkien’s day. And here we also run into the problem of Big Idea films, which is that, no matter how good or bad their build-up, they tend to live or die based on the execution of that big idea, and unfortunately, here the execution leaves a little to be desired.
The film’s creatures, especially, are nothing to write home about and are never particularly scary, though they easily could have been. They look and move like they’re in a video game, rather than the world of the movie. They also have one particular attribute that sets them apart from most other subterranean cannibal creatures in similar films—you’ll know it when you see it—one that could have been deployed brilliantly in a more thoughtful film, but is mostly wasted here.
Luckily for Devil’s Pass, its Big Idea is a particularly big and particularly ambitious one, enough so that it helps make up for some of the lapses in execution. Devil’s Pass is never going to become a classic, but it’s an enjoyable-enough—if overly formulaic—build-up to an exceptionally weird central premise and, at least if you’re me, that’s good enough for an afternoon of streaming horror flicks.