United States. Directed by Tara Anaïse, 2013. Starring Sage Howard, Andrew Simpson, Shelby Stehlin. 80 minutes.
About twenty minutes into Dark Mountain, one character turns to another and asks, “Are you afraid this will turn into The Blair Witch Project?” I kind of admired that. Dark Mountain is an obvious shameless rip-off from its first scene, which is Heather’s iconic “apology” sequence from Blair Witch without all the snot. I appreciated that director and co-writer Tara Anaïse was willing to fess up to that.
Lord knows there’s little else to admire or appreciate about Dark Mountain. It is, essentially, the mean average of every lackluster found-footage horror flick made since the industry fired up the bandwagon in the mid-to-late ’00s. (Trust me: I’ve seen Atrocious, Hollow and most of the Paranormal Activity sequels, so I know what I’m talking about.)
I wish I could keep the Blair Witch comparisons to a minimum, but I honestly don’t see how I can do that. Two-thirds of both films’ plot is functionally identical. The main difference is that instead of being set in a creepy fictional Maryland forest, Dark Mountain takes place in a spooky real-life Arizona mountain range.
The character outlay is the same: ambitious female aspiring documentarian bossing around two male techies who aren’t as emotionally invested in the idea. We get a scene where the characters interview the eccentric…I’m not sure they’re locals per se, but whatever the Superstition Mountains equivalent of a local would be. We get a scene where weird sounds happen outside a tent. We even get a scene where the Heather-figure (she has a name, but good luck thinking of her as anything other than “fake Heather”) runs around screaming another character’s name.
Okay, not every idea in Dark Mountain comes straight out of Blair Witch. For example, fake Heather and fake Josh are an item here. And everybody shoots video on their mobile phones, and Anaïse digitally processes the footage to make it look like it’s supposed to look like the characters shot it on a Super 8 camera in 1967. I’m not entirely sure why she does this, since the characters make no bones about the fact that they’re recording the footage on their phones. Maybe she thinks it looks cool. It kept pulling me out of the film and reminded me I was watching a work of fiction, which is the one thing in the world a found-footage movie must not do.
And…okay, there was the Lost Dutchman mythos, which, as I think I said earlier, is a real-life thing that wasn’t invented for the movie. Google “Superstition Mountains” and “Lost Dutchman Mine” after you watch Dark Mountain (or, better yet, instead of watching Dark Mountain). There are some very cool ideas in those legends, ideas that would make for a pretty groovy horror film. Then weep, for Dark Mountain is not that horror film.
If Dark Mountain were any more cynical, more generic or simply lazier, it would be named Found-Footage Movie and be directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Seriously, don’t bother.