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Trailer: Dark Mountain (2013)

Trailer: Dark Mountain (2013)

In March of 2011, three filmmakers disappeared in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona while documenting their search for the Lost Dutchman mine. Their bodies were never found… but their camera was.

One comment

  1. Genuinely terrible film making, on every level. Dark Mountain has the balls to start off with the well established crying confessional from Blair Witch (hysterical woman, crying, addressing camera “This was a mistake, I’m sorry Mom etc”) and blows it right at the start, never getting any more convincing. It winds up being a different kind of warning, that you shouldn’t bother watching this amateur night entry any further, because it has nothing to say or show you. It simply wants to sit at the table and make some money. There have been countless “found footage” films made since Blair Witch, and several of them have been quite good, as the film makers had ideas of their own, or used the genre to show off their cinematic skills and breathe new life in to a well worn path that plays on primal fear. Dark Mountain settles for a desert locations and one quarter baked (not even half baked) vague ideas that are never gel in to anything convincing or interesting, nor are they pleasingly ambiguous (brief and poorly executed glimpses of lights in the sky, “spirit” things a la ghosts, possession and time “vortexes.”) Then, it’s over. Instead of leaving you unsettled, it merely leaves with a “Are you serious? That’s it? Has the director been living under a rock for the past ten plus years?” Most embarrassing is just how much of Blair Witch is aped in this disaster. Crying confessional, two guys and a girl crew, “driven” female filmmaker who want’s to get footage at all costs (something which is totally unconvincing as the female character isn’t credibly portrayed as a filmmaker, nor the type of person who’d push the two males in the cast – this is all the more of a glaring failure as her voice is heard at the start of the end credits saying something along the lines of “this film will be my legacy” or something, as if it were tragic and/or warranted), getting lost when trying to leave and winding up inexplicably back where they started, finding tents and personal items have been messed with, unexplained “scary things” found hung in trees, barely lit frantic point of view night shots of the landscape (not terrifying here, as the desert offers little in the way of visible obstruction, open ground and small shrubs are a poor substitute for dense dark forest), interviews with “kooky” locals etc. Some of this COULD be forgivable or even forgotten if there was something, anything, original or well crafted going on here (Goldthwait’s “Willow Creek” comes to mind) – but there is nothing. It’s almost like someone saw Blair Witch for the first time in 2012, and then did marathon watching of some other films in the “lost in the landscape” genre like “Yellow Brick Road” (a non found footage film with originality and pleasing ambiguity to spare) and rushed to make their own, randomly inserting ideas they’d gleaned from those films while attempting to make something out of it during production and post via editing. Speaking of which, the editing in this film is a great example of “just cause you can doesn’t mean you should.” Meaning, anyone can paint but you wouldn’t necessarily like the results. The editing is so amateurish it makes me think it was done by someone with no experience and no training in the language of film theory or post production. And while special effects are by no means necessary for this kind of film, they are included here anyway and are both unconvincing and poorly handled or baffling in terms of how they were used in the film (such as when a camera inexplicably left running on dark tents where the protagonists are sleeping shows three lights in the sky and the film immediately cuts away a second later to a title and moves on – yes, in a film reconstructed from the found footage of dead people, this makes a lot of sense – as soon as the camera actually captures something important we should cut away immediately).

    Here are some things I hated about this film and noted as I watched it.

    1) Loud noises for cheap scares (just about the only attempts at fright in the film). Dark Mountain goes one further – due to over enthusiastic, amateurish sound design it transparently adds to the organic “real” sound shocks allegedly captured by the camera (such as radios and walkie-talkies suddenly turning on and feeding back) – meaning you are presented what is supposed “tragic” found footage, but apparently someone then decided (all too obviously) to add more “scary sounds” on top of what the camera captured. Since we are being asked to take this as real footage, the obvious question is… who added obvious sound effects to that footage? Better yet, who thought it was a good idea to fill the soundtrack with bargain basement, dreary, “dark sounding” imitation Nick Cave music? If you were cobbling together genuine found footage of dead or disappeared people, would you add “spooky” music with vocals to the sound track during scenes when the protagonists are just walking around? No, you wouldn’t. No one would. It’s an idiotic creative choice, the kind of thing someone with no feel for horror or the genre might resort to.

    2) Pointless, artlessly framed shots of the landscape which do not establish a mood in any way, many of which go on far too long and appear to be nothing but padding. Case in point, several throw away shots of birds flying over head (and later several out of focus shots of dead animals they filmmakers appear to have stumbled upon while shooting). During the last of these bird shots I actually yelled at my TV “Stop lingering on pointless shots!” In fact, the cinematography throughout is quite awful, with a terrible eye for framing the landscape, alternating with overly manufactured looking shots where characters address the camera. Other filmmakers have struggled with how to handle the conceit of having amateurs behind the camera, how to capture the mood or infuse some art into the hand held convention (“Trollhunter,” for example uses two camera people, one who becomes a vital part of the story and meets an untimely end, and a second with established professional experience shooting wild life and documentaries, allowing for believable professional shots). Watching Dark Mountain, I actually found myself thinking about how a comedy should be made using this found footage genre, playing on the fact that the film makers were unable to ever capture anything unusual that happened on camera due to incompetence. This is because here the convention just winds up in artless framing and cut-aways that repeatedly fail to capture any mood or mystery. Yet the makers of Dark Mountain saw fit to put “spooky sounds and music” over many of these shots. It winds up smacking of desperation or complete unawareness, not the by product of the less than talented shooters of the found footage.

    3) The film utterly fails to establish how far the protagonists have gone in to the wild, a key element to making us believe in their isolation, for which I can only credit bad editing and poor direction. Two painfully amateurish dissolves in particular (combining showing them walking and empty shots of the landscape) are jarringly terrible, and so poorly timed they fail to give any sense of the passage of time. This failure is all the more incredible, considering how poorly paced the film is (about half the movie passes before anything “happens.”) Basic advice here would have been for the editor to include less pointless shots that show little but the actors in close shots etc in the “traveling to” section of the film, where at times it looks like whomever is behind the camera is only interested in filming the cast doing little but looking out the window or looking at the camera.

    4) Pointless poor quality “instagram-ish” video shot from a phone and inserted over and over. This transparent attempt to bring visual variety to the film’s images is one of many fatal creative decisions. Whenever this effect is used, it renders the images allegedly made as part of this documentary poorly, meaning loss of detail and clarity – something documentary filmmakers would have to be utter morons to do. If they were to use their phone video function, wouldn’t they turn it off and opt for a clearer mode when a) scanning the hill tops for sign of where a gun shot came from – or b) when making a final video confession when thinking death is near, with that video intended to be seen by whomever finds your camera and shared with your parents etc? “Hi Mom, I thought it’d be nice to have this pointless super 8 aged video effect on the last known images of your terrified daughter. Looks pretty doesn’t it? I’m dead now. Enjoy!” 5) Our intrepid and allegedly driven female filmmaker captures an image of a spirit presence (or something equally vague) during their first entry in to a cave, then refuses to review the footage or allow anyone else to see it, even after confessing that she shot it and had been keeping it a secret (for no apparent reason). Her answer is literally “I’ll look at everything when we get home. End of story.” So no one sees it. This is laughable, obviously, and is an example of nonsensical behavior necessitated by a contrived story.

    6) Character crawls toward camera, terrified, after it is dropped to the ground, and upon getting close to the camera the character is dragged off in the darkness by unseen thing (this is the last shot in the film, folks. I’m not kidding). You’ve seen this shot many times elsewhere. Only someone with no awareness of the genre, and no original ideas or shame would have the gall to end their film with that shot at this point. Either that or they just did not care. “We got an eighty minute cut done. Gimme PPV money, dumb teenagers!” 7) Poorly executed and wholly unneeded “camera interference” that results in the standard dropping of frames, digital artifacts etc, accomplishing little but irritation as there is nothing interesting or scary going on in those shots – it seems like a “hey, we can make this SEEM scary even though it isn’t in any way” post production decision.

    8) Red herrings or ambiguity can be great, in the right hands or in the right story. Here it just seems like “stick it all in a blender” was the idea. Who was the shirtless man they spot on a hill top who they think was following them? Dunno, because it’s forgotten as quickly as it is pointed out. Why are there lights in the sky? Because UFOs, I think. Don’t waste any time on figuring out they “whys,” they are just there. By the time you get to the end, much of this just seems like filler, something to put in the movie, or more accurately, in the trailer for the movie. Cast a wide net, maybe the poor dopes will think it’s an alien abduction story if they don’t get that it’s about cave spirits and time vortexes, probably…

    9) The one example we are given of this “time vortex” element is a campsite they find which appears to have been undisturbed and seems to exist in the 1970’s. The proof we are given is a diary, read aloud by one of the leads, and then a tape recording on a cassette player. You could be excused for thinking you’ve stumbled in to a video game, attempting to cheaply and quickly dispose of some exposition, but this is a major turning point in the film and we will be lead back here later. The depiction of the camp site and its discovery is so botched and unconvincing that it never even gets close to being eerie.

    To give the actors a bit of credit, while they fail to convince as real people and aren’t particularly good at all, they are not the worst I have seen in the genre. Unbelievable actors have sunk films like this much faster, and I’m going to say that given the level of incompetence elsewhere in this movie I think the blame probably should fall on the director for any shortcomings. I’m going to stop here and just say that Dark Mountain is one of the worst films I’ve seen in years, and it left me with a sour taste, the feeling that those who made simply did not give a sh*t.


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