Dark Mountain
R0 - America - MVD Visual
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (24th December 2014).
The Film

The legend of the "Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine" has attracted the curious and the greedy by the thousands to Arizona's remote Superstition Mountains and claimed the lives of at least one-hundred-and-fifty to disappearances and death by accidents, dehydration, starvation, and murder. The latest three to disappear are wannabe documentary filmmaker Kate (Sage Howard), her boyfriend Paul (Andrew Simpson), and third wheel friend Ross (Shelby Stehlin) whose story (at least partially) is revealed via "found footage" from Kate's DSLR and the camera phones of the other two. Interviewing the locals, they learn about rumors surrounding the mountains involving UFO sightings, time vortexes, violent hermit prospectors searching for the mine, and sacred ground supposedly guarded by either Apaches or the thunder god. Working from a sketchy map, and conveniently forgetting to check their itinerary with the ranger station, they hope to uncover the long lost mine during a three-day trek into the mountains. Kate, seemingly oblivious to the tension within the triangle, is prepared to create drama if there is none; as such, her not entirely unsubstantiated claim that someone is following them becomes even more worrying than strange noises in the night, lights in the sky, and electronic disturbances. When Paul stumbles upon a piece of stone flecked with gold ore in a cave filled with Native American artwork – and commits the sin of pocketing the sacred object – he and Kate believe they are on the right track. Paul antagonizing Russ over his increasingly wariness of the local superstitions might just be jealousy, but his more disturbing behavior in the night while sleepwalking suggests something more unnatural than greed and paranoia.

Dark Mountain is a stylistically-assured debut by director Tara Anaïse with a great setting, frequently attractive photography, and a trio of actors of seeming ability but an overall indebtedness to The Blair Witch Project (more so than any of the other "found footage" films since) that assures viewers early on that it has nothing new to offer. Indeed, it seems as if the film's story has been slotted in between a bullet point list of scenes or sequences from the former film rather than the more casual commonalities of other better and worse "found footage" flicks. We get the bickering, false scares, night vision explorations of noises outside the camp, the filmmakers happening upon creepy pagan makeshift shrines, the climactic POV running through the woods in the night screaming for a missing character sequence, the closing shot of a camera jolted to the ground as its operator is bludgeoned by an offscreen force, not to mention two versions of final character expressing tearful regret as a warning to whoever finds the recording (also added is the shot first popularized in the "found footage" genre with [REC] of a character dragged away from the dropped camera with supernatural speed). While most films in the genre leave open to interpretation the perpetrator and the ultimate fate of the victims (and others simply do not care), the makers of Dark Mountain are particularly unambiguous in their inability to choose between the paranormal or the extraterrestrial. One of the annoying contrivances of this and other recent found footage pics is the refusal of characters to check the footage when something weird happens, made even more frustrating since the real filmmakers think nothing of inserting flashbacks for emphasis and near-subliminal flash-forward images for additional jolts (then again, the selection and omission of footage has always been a problematic issue with found footage films that do not take place in real time with one camera source). The jump scares – most of which rely on sudden burst of loud metal music from the radio or static and crossed signals on Paul's walkie-talkie – are tiresome yet work for the most part but quickly become tiresome, but the film is most successful at achieving an otherworldly atmosphere during scenes that exploit the natural beauty of the setting in conjunction with evocative psychedelic tracks by indie group Filthy Huns. The film will most likely please the easily "creeped out" and those with a high tolerance for variations on a theme when it comes to "found footage" flicks, but anyone looking for the final word or even a new direction for the genre will be once again disappointed.


The progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer of the high-definition photography is a satisfactory encode, looking crisp when the and colorful when the image is not treated to post-production tinkering like simulated tape distortion and pixellation or several random shots that get the "old-timey" faded 8mm old film look. Video noise in the night shots is minimal but appropriate given the "found footage" nature of the film.


The disc's audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is largely front-oriented with more atmospheric than directional effects in the surrounds (which also give some additional depth to the music score) apart from a few "jump scares" that rely on bursts of loud audio or music stings.


The sole extra on the disc is a compilation of "Extended Interviews" (11:05) which are not cast interviews or the extended versions of the character phone camera confessionals, but more footage of Kate interviewing locals. There are no trailers for the film or any other MVD releases.


The keep case packaging relies on more conventional horror artwork rather than the film's more subtle poster artwork seen online.


Dark Mountain has its share of scares but ultimately squanders what novel aspects it possesses in favor of everything one has come to expect of "found footage" movies.

The Film: C+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: D+ Overall: B-


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