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Altitude (2010)

06/20/2011 2 comments

Some cryptozoologists have described accounts of creatures called “atmospheric beasts”, non-winged creatures that dwell in the antmospheres of planets. Carl Sagan proposed that such creatures could potentially live in the atmosphere of gas giants like Jupiter, while more esoteric thinkers have speculated that UFO sightings might actually be eyewitness accounts of atmospheric beasts in Earth’s stratosphere. Well, if people can imagine it, other people can make a movie out of it, and this one decided to pass this phenomenon through the Lovecraft filter. How well did it do? Let’s find out.

Altitude is a Lovecraftian horror film directed by Canadian comic book writer and artist Kaare Andrews. It stars Jessica Lowndes, Julianna Guill, Landon Loboiron, Ryan Donowho, and a big tentacle monster.

When Sara was a little girl, her mother was killed when the plane she was flying crashed into another plane in midair, also killing two of the three passengers. Nobody knew where the other plane had come from, and it would remain a mystery for years. Fortunately, the threat of random ninja planes has not dissuaded Sara from getting her own pilot’s license, and years later she plans to fly herself and four friends to Montreal in another small plane. Sara’s boyfriend Bruce is nervous about the flight, but the others (resident douchebag Sal, his girlfriend Mel, and Sara’s cousin Cory) are excited about the trip, so Bruce grins and bears it for Sara’s sake. However, midflight a bolt in the tail comes loose, jamming the elevator and sending the plane into an uncontrolled climb. As Sara tries to regain control of the small plane, their trajectory sends them into a storm, where they lose all radio contact with the ground. This would be bad enough, were it not for the tentacle monster living in the storm…

I found this movie fairly randomly on Netflix, and when it arrived this weekend I mentally shrugged and said, “what the hell”. I’d seen some good indie movies from Canada (Cube comes to mind), and I was a fan of well-done Lovecraftian horror (see also Event Horizon). However, this movie had two strikes against it right off the bat. First, it was a direct-to-video feature. I’d seen some entertaining DTV movies in my day, and while many of them were entertaining, the overwhelming majority were hilariously bad. Secondly, director Kaare Andrews is better known for his comic books than his movies – Altitude being his first feature film. While this means that he has a good sense for visuals, Frank Miller has shown us that being a bitchin’ comics guy does not mean you will necessarily be a bitchin’ movies guy.

The story did hold some promise, in a Twilight Zone sort of way, offering a weird random phenomenon that could not be adequately explained by the laws of science, but in actual execution it fell flat. We are given only the briefest characterization for the core cast before the story unfolds, not nearly enough to make the viewer care about these people even in the last third when the really hinky stuff starts happening in earnest. While this movie is relatively short – only about an hour and a half long – most of the parts that did not involve solving the plane’s malfunction or the plane and its passengers being tentacle raped by the cloud monster felt like padding. In truth, a lot of this filler could have been trimmed out, and the result shown as an episode of Tales from the Darkside or The Twilight Zone. When things start getting really twisty at the end, I was left feeling less like, “Oh, that was clever” and more, “Where the hell did that come from?!” There are good twists and lazy twists, and this felt like a lazy twist. This, coupled with dodgy special effects, left me feeling like this could have been a much better movie is more effort had been put into it.

I will be the first to admit that it is difficult to make a good Lovecraft pastiche, but in the case of Altitude, it started out in the real world, set a course for Lovecraft Country, but overshot and crashlanded in the Twilight Zone. It’s a badly assembled collection of parts that might have been good, but ended up mediocre. Give this one a miss.

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