Director/Screenplay – Nick Szostakiwskyj, Producers – Nick Szostakiwskyj & Cameron Tremblay, Photography – Cameron Tremblay, Prosthetics – Tomasz Sosnowski, Production Design – Jon Lawson. Production Company – A Farewell to Kings Entertainment Company
Shane Twerdum (Jensen), Michael Dickson (Professor Piers Olsen), Carl Toftfelt (Francis Månro), Marc Anthony Williams (Robert Michael Giles), Andrew Moxham (Dr Richard Andvers), Timothy Lyle (Drew McNaughton), Steve Bradley (Steven Wells), Nathaniel Gordon (Voice of Deer God), Bryce McLaughlin (Ramis), Kelvin Bonneau (Navarron)
A group of six men maintain an archaeological base in the Northern Taiga Cordillera mountain range in the frozen north of Canada. They are joined by archaeology professor Piers Olsen who has come to examine a monument they have unearthed. Carbon dating gives an impossible reading of the object being 20,000 years old and originating in the midst of the last Ice Age. Strange things start to occur as one man becomes infected and has to have his arm amputated, while another cuts off his own hand. Medical examination bafflingly reveals cephalopod cells in the men’s bodies. Increasingly, what they have unearthed begins to affect the men, causing them to hear voices that drive them to paranoia and murder.
Black Mountain Side was the second film for Canadian director Nick Szostakiwskyj. Szostakiwskyj had previously made the comedy Kankered (2011) that nobody appears to have seen and has worked as a cinematographer and boom operator on various other films. Black Mountain Side did the rounds of several fantastic festivals before getting a dvd release proper in 2016.
Like a number of other films, Black Mountain Side draws on John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) – any horror film with a group of men sequestered in a research outpost in the frozen regions cannot help but avoid it. On the other hand, while Black Mountain Side gives you the expectation of being another variant on The Thing, it seems to avoid ever getting there. You can see where it is going but the pace takes an awfully long time to develop into anything. (Not to mention that the location looks less like an archaeological research station than someone’s cabin in the woods). Even when the film starts to deliver things – the scene where the men have to amputate Steve Bradley’s arm with an axe, another where Timothy Lyle cuts off his own hand with a knife – you cannot help but think the effect should have been more impactful than it is. Compare the incredibly stark arm-severing in the also-Thing influenced and Canadian-made The Thaw (2009) and you see how this fails to have any effect by contrast.
Even more so than that, the film seems incredibly vague about what the menace is, for that matter even providing any actual menace. It hints at all manner of explanations about what is going on – the opening of an ancient barrow from the last Ice Age, infection, mass insanity, the ultra-weird scene where the doctor reports finding cephalopod DNA in the veins of the severed limbs, characters seeming to have conversations with what looks like some kind of deer entity. Yet the film is frustrating in pinning anything down and actually telling us what is going on. The obvious association to The Thing gives us the expectation of some type of creature feature. Instead, what we get resembles more other Thing-influenced films such as The Last Winter (2006) and Nine Miles Down (2009) that place their emphasis on cabin fever and their protagonists descending into paranoia and mass insanity. At least, that’s what you think the film is doing but it so avoids answers, even as it arrives at its aggravating non-ending, that it proves frustrating.