Hooo boy. An alternative title for Dark Mountain could Cultural Insensitivity and Bad Life Choices: The Movie. Or some variation of a Blair Witch Project homage/rip-off. I’m not sure where the line between reference and outright copying is drawn, but Dark Mountain comes dangerously close to replicating both the plot, structure, and style of The Blair Witch Project with only slight variation. The characters even reference The Blair Witch Project during the story, assuring themselves that their project won’t turn out anything like the movie.
Guess how Dark Mountain ends. Compare it nearly shot for shot to the ending of The Blair Witch Project.
I get the impulse to film tributes to the stories that have come before, even to recreate scenes from one film and move them into another. That, in itself, is not the problem. It becomes a problem when the tribute fails to do something new with the content.
At first, I thought Dark Mountain was going in a different direction – paying homage to The Blair Witch Project without following the same path. After all, there are some key differences in the story. For one thing, the Superstition Mountains – where the story takes place – aren’t home to just one supernatural local myth. There are tons of varied unexplained happenings, historical oddities, and local color all centered on that one spot.
Oh. And then of course the murders with very human perpetrators.
Our protagonists are in the process of filming a documentary on the legend of the lost mine of Superstition Mountains, Arizona, which was proven to exist at one point in time, but the exact location has been lost to history – along with a great deal of gold, and the story of a lifetime to propel the career of a young filmmaker. All anyone knows for sure is that a lot of weird things have happened in the area.
A place like that is the prime setting for a scary story. We have the combination of myth, a history of ethnic genocide between the white settlers and Native Americans, a source of great, untapped wealth, and a series of unsolved homicides and disappearances – the latest of which, our protagonists are told, was discovered less than six months ago. Furthermore, the murderers were clearly committed by a person and not a ghost – why would a ghost need to use a gun?
Sadly, Dark Mountain appears to have bitten off more than it can chew with its premise.
Opening on what is essentially a retooling of the infamous goodbye/apology video from The Blair Witch Project, Dark Mountains leads us through a remake of the former’s plot. Weirdness happens. Our intrepid heroes become lost in the desert, disoriented, and finally begin turning on each other. Something is following them. And then, of course, one of our idiot heroes steals a native artifact.
Things go rapidly downhill from that point, both for our protagonists and for the film itself. After establishing a premise with many possible story threads, Dark Mountain struggles to explore all of them without providing any clear answers. What caused all the weirdness? Who knows? The audience sure doesn’t.
As much grief as I’ve given this movie, I don’t think the trope of the Doomed Camera Crew is inherently a bad one. Dark Mountain has its moments of subtle brilliance, with the characters fussing around with the various filters on the camera, as young film students would. It does interesting things with the characters too, especially with the character of Kate – who talks openly about instigating drama to make her film more interesting, but balks about talking about anything that might make her uncomfortable. Sadly, Dark Mountain’s creative streak seems to end there. The possibility that other people are committing the murders and staging all the happenings is never really explored – despite a scene where the protagonists can clearly see another person, as opposed to a monster or shadowy mass – following them. Furthermore, the issue of having a bunch of white people traipsing around what has been clearly been defined as sacred to the Native Americans is vaguely brought up once and then promptly dropped. The characters seem more worried about disturbing potential ghosts than the real damage they may be doing to the actual, living people to whom the mountains have spiritual meaning.
In conclusion, Dark Mountain really loves The Blair Witch Project, but fails to rise above its inspiration. See it if you like found footage films, but don’t expect it to add anything to the genre. The first act is the most interesting by far. The premise is much better than the actual story.