The most Lovecraftian of movies with a story not written by H.P. Lovecraft
This movie review Black Mountain Side is an opinion from a writer of paranormal fiction about paranormal/horror movie. I love anything that incorporates elements of other writers’ unique work, and this movie fit that bill.
After returning from our annual fall hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains, my husband and I settled down to watch a movie. It is, after all, close to Halloween, and we like the occasional spooky movie. We found Black Mountain Side on Freevee in the Horror section on our Roku. You can probably watch it online, too.
Movie Review Black Mountain Side
First, the background of this movie. It’s an independent horror film written, directed, and produced by Nick Szostakiwskyj. According to IMDB, he has three films to his credit, and he is Canadian. I give anyone who has the ability to produce their own creative project, whether a self-published book or a self written, directed and produced movie, a big round of applause. Anytime we creatives move outside of the traditional context, we find the freedom to create and find something new – and I believe Szostakiwskyj does this as well with the movie.
The Plot: Spoiler Alert!
Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but: spoilers ahead!
The plot is fairly basic. Think “The Thing” from the 1950s set in Canada. A group of archaeologists has established a camp in a very remote part of Canada. It is established from the start that there are other camps, each excavating an unusual set of markers found in the forest.
The markets appear to have been placed around 10,000 years ago by indigenous people. However, when the site of the market is excavated, an older pot is discovered with highly unusual designs. It depicts an antler-headed god and a series of maimed people around the rim (most of the people are missing arms or hands).
As the archaeologists continue to dig, they discover a tomb. But it isn’t like any tomb they have seen before. It looks kind of like a stone root cellar poking up from the ground with the same hieroglyphics decorating it.
Don’t Dig in Weird Tombs!
The movie starts with the group welcoming a senior official from the excavation project who has flown in to examine their finds. As the movie progresses, it is established that he cannot match the glyphs on the pottery or the tomb to any established culture. There’s some oblique references to an Amazon tomb dated 20,000 years ago (which is impossible as no such structures exist). However, the culture that produced the tomb and the pottery remains a mystery.
Slow Psychological Horror
Most of the movie is a slow build of psychological horror…the usual stuff:
- They are in a very remote place with no way to get out (which is stupid in this day and age, but more on that later)
- Radio communications fails
- Big snowstorm comes in
- Scheduled supply drop never happens
- Weird things start happening
The Lovecraftian Element
Soon, one of the archaeologists falls ill. He vomits black liquid on the table in the middle of a meeting. The doctor can’t figure it out until the guy goes into a full seizure later that day or night…and they realize something is crawling under the skin of his arm.
Meanwhile, others start hearing a commanding voice at night. “Look at me” it says. “Look beyond the trees and look at me.” We can’t see the owner of the voice…but as soon as it started, I felt a bit of recognition.
Howard P. Lovecraft, to be exact. He was an American author who produced most of his work between 1910-1936 and an early pioneer of horror and science fiction.
Lovecraft invented his own mythos. His tales are called “eldritch” tales – weird, sinister, ghostly, but never gory. Most of them involve a group he dubbed the “elder gods” who rule the formless void of madness.
Lovecraft’s main cosmic entity is “Cthulhu” and appears with octopus like-features in human form.
When the first archeologist becomes sick and the group sees something big and dark moving under the skin of his arm, one of the men takes a hatched, and in perhaps one of the most unexpected and gory moments in movie history, hacks the guy’s arm off. Someone grabs a shovel, sticks it in the roaring fire, then cauterizes the man’s stump. It’s awful, it’s fast, and horrifying.
But when the doctor does autopsy the arm, he finds….cephalopod cells. The man’s cells are turning into an ‘octopus-like creature.’ The ghastly deep voice in the night, heard only in deep REM sleep by a handful of the men, starts up again, calling them to do horrible things in its name. And the men, once they ‘see’ the owner of the voice, can’t unsee it; it drives them to madness.
The Call of Cthulu
In the Wikipedia entry about Lovecraft’s creation, Cthulhu, it states: “The imprisoned Cthulhu is apparently the source of constant subconscious anxiety for all mankind, and is also the object of worship, both by many human cults.”
This is the point in the movie where I felt both the atmosphere and the plot elements were heavily influenced by Lovecraft. In addition to the reference to an octopus-like cells (a nod to Cthulhu) and the deep, ghostly voice commanding “Look at me”, the entire feel of the movie is heavily Lovecraft. It’s like a visual nod to the images created by his words on paper.
As the story progresses, it becomes closer to Lovecraft’s other story, “At the Mountain of Madness”. In that novella, Lovecraft puts a group of explorers in Antarctica who find a tomb with unknown symbols. The movie moved the setting from Antarctica to northern Canada and changed explorers for archaeologists, but it’s very close.
The Horror Continues
One by one, the archaeologists go mad as the voice begins to keep them from REM sleep.
One man hacks off his own hand. Another guys kill himself. Another man goes mad from the elder god’s voice and has to be locked up as the voice commands him to kill the others.
Finally, only two archaeologists are left. As they each confront the god, who appears in the form of an antlered head walking upright on a body that’s a cross between goat and man, they distract it long enough for one of the men to dynamite the tomb. The god disappears in a rush of flame – the assumption is that destroying the tomb destroyed it somehow, too.
The ending has one archaeologist struggling to each a local native reservation only to get caught in a bear trap. We are left feeing as desolate as the cold, snowy landscape.
Is It a Good Movie? A Bad Movie?
This is supposed to be a movie review, Black Mountain Side – a review of the movie itself. So here’s my take.
I admired the Lovecraftian elements so much that I think I forgave a lot of plot holes in the tale. It was gory, yet – you can’t hack off limbs and not be gory – but the amount of blood was minimal compared to modern slasher films.
The pacing was too slow to start with. The film spent an awfully long time on the team itself. The actors were good, but it was hard to tell them apart. A group of bearded men in flannel all starts to look alike.
The middle picked up, but then the writers sort of ruined the nice Lovecraftian vibe by having the doctor pronounce the whole thing was just bacteria escaped from the tomb and infecting the first man who become ill. His entire germ theory-turning man into octopus speech felt like it was thrown in for anyone NOT up to speed on Lovecraft, which is probably 99% of the viewing audience. It gave the movie a red herring in a sci fi plot twist that was never mentioned again. That felt like a cheat on the part of the scriptwriter.
Lastly, the ending. Ugh, the ending. The last archaeologist to go mad grabs a gun and just starts murdering everyone until we are left with two men, one of whom is mortally wounded. The mortally wounded guy sacrificed himself to blow up the tomb.
Now, if you have a creature who is so powerful it can project thoughts, disrupt REM sleep, and actually appear in two places at once (it is having a dialogue with the man at the tomb and the last remaining man out in the forest, appearing to both simultaneously) it seems an awful stretch to imagine it will be destroyed by something as simple as dynamite in a tomb.
Then again…if it last appeared on Earth 14,000 years ago (if their carbon dating was correct, which it might not have been), perhaps it could be destroyed by dynamite.
But where did it come from? How did the Indians capture it and contain it in the tomb in the first place?
What did the archaeologists do, other than unearth the structure (we are not shown them actually opening the door and going in, and in all the scenes it appears that the doors are still closed and half buried in the soil) to awaken the thing?
None of this is explained…it’s just the old “curse of the mummy’s tomb” thing, along with bits and pieces of The Thing, and bits and pieces of the other classic sci fi movies, to come to an ending that feels haunting but somehow lacking.
So did I like the movie? Yes, because of the Lovecraftian elements. It has been ages – maybe 20, 30 years or more – since I read Lovecraft. I went through a spate in high school and in college studying his works and trying to copy the way he creates atmosphere, but I never could get the hang of it. I admire Nick Szostakiwskyj’s ability to infuse the visual elements of the film and the overall feeling of the movie with the same eldritch feelings I felt reading Lovecraft. That’s not easy, and he managed it, as other movie reviewers of Black Mountain Side have said.
I thought the acting was on par for a horror movie, with some performances slightly better than others. The big problem is that except for the older archaeologist (the one who came by helicopter to investigate their finding) and one black archaeologist, it was nearly impossible to tell the remaining 4-5 men apart.
And did they really have to kill the cat? Poor cat. Pets never fare well in horror stories.
If you’re in the mood to be creeped out, don’t mind a little violence and gore, and have read Lovecraft – okay that’s a big three “ifs” but that might work – then watch it. Black Mountain Side streams on Freevee. Catch it on Roku, Freevee channel or online.
Movie review Black Mountain Side: I give it 5 out of 10 stars.
What’s your thought on this movie? Drop a comment if you’ve seen it.