Wednesday, July 10, 2013

SyFy vs. The Mynd: Killer Mountain (2011)

Aging millionaire Barton (Andrew Airlie) convinces retired mountaineer Ward Donovan (Aaron Douglas doing an excellent straightforward likeable no-nonsense hero, and saying "frak" once) to help him out with a little problem. About a month ago, Barton had started a highly illegal (so illegal, Barton disguises his project as humanitarian help effort like the obvious jerk he is) climbing expedition for jaded rich people on a forbidden and clearly very dangerous mountain in Bhutan. Now, all contact with the expedition has been lost, and Barton needs an expert climber like Ward to mount a rescue. Because he retired after a catastrophic climbing outing, Ward isn't wild at all about the whole business until Barton discloses that the lost expedition was led by Ward's ex-wife Kate (Emmanuelle Vaugier), for whom, this being SyFy standard operating procedure, he still carries more than just friendly feelings. Consequently, Ward can't say no to Barton any longer.

Once Ward and a handful of helpers (Paul Campbell, Crystal Lowe, Torrance Coombs and Mig Macario) are on the go, things turn out to be rather different from what Barton told them: the expedition must have been running for at least a month longer than the millionaire said, and they clearly were looking for something specific(as we will learn later, a certain lost city of myth), which doesn't fit the whole "jaded millionaires" story at all. Things also turn out to be even more dangerous than expected, for the mountain harbours, apart from its more usual dangers, rather unexpected and dangerous fauna, and most members of the old expedition seem to have died in rather disturbing ways. Ward and his team will need quite a bit of luck if they're planning on surviving their rescue mission, and - perhaps - pick up a survivor or two of the last one.

Sheldon Wilson's Killer Mountain is a bit different from your run-of-the-mill SyFy movie in that it is neither a creature feature - though there are creatures here - nor a disaster movie - though nature shows itself from its ruder side - but a fantastical adventure movie in the spirit of old pulp tales. Films of that particular genre aren't very common anymore, so I approach every occurrence of one of these rare beasts with a certain, if cautious, degree of enthusiasm.

In Killer Mountain's case, that enthusiasm is very much justified. Wilson juggles the plot's various elements - there's a whole minor parallel storyline about what happens around Barton when Wade's team is gone that I haven't gone into in the synopsis at all, as well as the continuing adventures of Kate, plus there are creatures, climbing movie mainstays, a lost city, and a cure for everything to handle - with verve and what seemed to me a certain joy. One might argue that Wilson is keeping a few balls too many in the air here, and so plot elements like the healing power of slug leech thingies or the whole mythical lost city are given comparatively short thrift, but to me, this only adds to the pulp charm of the whole affair. For pulp adventure (in print and in the movies) really isn't a genre about slowly pondering the complexities of situations and thinking ideas through, and rather one of racing through as many exciting elements quickly and energetically during the course of a novella or a ninety minute film.

And that, Killer Mountain does exceedingly well. Sure, from time to time the film can't quite hide its TV budget, can't quite sell a CGI-ed British Columbia as Bhutan (though it does give it such nice try with some very fine location shots I'm far from complaining here), can't find a CGI effects crew with the ability to create a believable helicopter (which is rather curious, seeing as how they're quite good when it comes to the landscape bits), and really doesn't work enough at changing up its favourite pulp clichés a bit (the racial politics here are problematic, for example) but Killer Mountain demonstrates so much of the right energy and spirit I can't bring myself to care much - if at all - about its flaws.

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