Black Mountain Side follows a group of archaeologists after they uncover a strange structure in Northern Canada, dating over ten thousand years before the present. The team finds themselves isolated when their communication systems fail and it is not long before they begin to feel the effects of the solitude.
As most of the UK woke up to the first snows of winter last week, what better time than now to review Black Mountain Side, an icebound psychological chiller that finds a group of scientists losing their marbles when they unearth an ancient construction from under the ice? Whilst clearly following in the snowy footsteps of Carpenter’s The Thing or, more recently, Fessenden’s The Last Winter, Black Mountain Side just about manages to ride the storm with some inspired photography and a unique, albeit somewhat underexploited, premise rooted in science, mythology and archaeology.
The film gets off to a cracking start as we meet the icebound team of scientists and director/writer Nick Szostakiwskyj showcases his writing skills as we are treated to some truly convincing exchanges between the lead characters. As most of the characters have been cooped up with each other for forever and a day there’s plenty of male bonding going on but at the same time petty grudges are instantly noticeable – living in close quarters has a tendency to smoke even the smallest of pet peeves out of anyone, right? These grudges help to keep things moving along and provide an effective setup before the imminent shitstorm.
The storm in this case is some form of endemic bacteria that has managed to thrive throughout the ages in these harsh environmental conditions. Althought said bacteria first manifests itself as some kind of bug that literally gets under the skin, it soon becomes apparent that it’s also some form of ancient evil capable of exploiting everyone’s fallibilities. This is where the film tackles that age-old “who can we trust?” horror premise when everyone starts going slightly mad, an aspect it achieves surprisingly well. Unhinged characters can often lead to disaster if not played with just the right balance but most of the cast cope admirably, putting in fairly solid off-kilter performances, particularly Carl Toftfelt and Shane Twerdun.
Unfortunately, what did more harm than good was the actual evil entity. With what can only be described as a deer walking around on its hind hooves and a strange voice emanating inside the lead players’ heads to entice them into their own personal purgatories, any kind of foreboding feeling just felt lacking and detached me from the group’s degenerating sanity. Whilst said deer wasn’t particularly disturbing, the story fortunately gave SFX makeup artist Tomasz Sosnowski plenty of elbow room to indulge in some seriously bilious-inducing amputations which helped get the audience’s adrenaline pumping again.
The real star of the film though is the postcard picturesqueness of the bleak and bitter British Columbia setting. Cameron Tremblay’s cinematic flair is spellbinding as he fully exploits the icesape setting which, coupled with a nonexistent score, conjures up some chillingly portentous surroundings.
So Black Mountain Side sure does rely on unearthing more than the odd shopworn horror trope but it still deserves credit for remaining admissibly unique and entertaining. In short, Szostakiwskyj’s debút won’t be going down in the annals of icebound horror history but it’s far from dowdy, serving up an intensely bleak, baleful and, at times, brutal picture of personality disintegration.
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)