‘Black Mountain Side’: the missing link between ‘The thing’ and HP Lovecraft is loose on Amazon Prime Video
Before someone comes to say it, we will say it, that nobody beats us with glasses: we already know that ‘The thing’, John Carpenter’s masterpiece of existential and claustrophobic horror has more than one point in common with Lovecraft’s work in general and with his masterpiece ‘In the Mountains of Madness’ in particular. From the feeling of physical and mental isolation to his creature of unknown origin and intentions as hostile as they are enigmatic.
In fact, ‘In the Mountains of Madness’, the only novel the Providence author ever wrote, It is key as an influence of films that superficially seem little Lovecraftian (but that they are, and a lot, in spirit), like ‘Alien, the eighth passenger’. Hence Guillermo del Toro’s obsession for decades to adapt it: he knows that it is a key gear for understanding the most claustrophobic terror that takes place in more ruthless natural environments.
‘Black Mountain Side’ isn’t an official Lovecraft adaptation either, but the kinship both with his work and with the aforementioned ‘The Thing’ by Carpenter is indisputable, and in fact it serves for both to dialogue, since it takes elements from one and the other and puts them in relation. On the one hand, the isolation of a group of men who are falling victims of mistrust and isolation; on the other, the elements that refer to ignominious cults and entities whose arrival in our world goes back beyond the beginnings of the human being.
All this is embedded in a story set in northern Canada, in a practically unpopulated area and where a group of scientists has made an unusual discovery: the upper part of what could be an underground structure and that seems prior to any record of human activity. But when the cat disappears, the native helpers decide to defect and the radio connection to civilization fades, the team begins to suspect that what they have found may be more terrifying than the archaeological discovery of the century.
In the Canadian mountains of madness
This plot unfolds at a pace and expressive parsimony more typical of independent cinema than of a commercial horror film. With very few elements, newcomer Nick Szostakiwskyj (who later wrote and directed another film, ‘Archons’, very much in tune with this one) poses a situation of extreme tension and continuous suspicion that you do not need more ingredients to sow uneasiness in the viewer.
Thanks to excellent photography work by Cameron Tremblay, It is not necessary to travel to the Arctic to perceive the feeling of loneliness and uncivilized area exhibited by ‘The Thing’ and Lovecraft. Szostakiwskyj uses seemingly inane and inconsequential conversations from scientists to reinforce his naivete at what is coming his way. And the scenes of violence and horror are extraordinarily well visualized with superb practical, simple and powerful effects.
Sometimes the script finds it difficult to distinguish between characters, and is unable to replicate Carpenter’s excellent work to endow scientists with differentiated personalitiesBut still, with very few elements he does a competent job: from the airs of grandeur of the expedition director to the stunned disbelief of a professor new to the project, the characters are sketchy but they work. And much more when extraordinary events are triggered.
Possibly, there will be viewers accustomed to a more pyrotechnic horror cinema who are left half with ‘Black Mountain Side’: We will never see the inside of the archaeological site (which was the key to ‘In the Mountains of Madness’) nor will we receive too much data about the entities that make scientists lose their minds (there, in true Lovecraft style). But the search for alternative mythologies to the usual ones, immersing himself in the enigmas of Mesoamerican civilizations, gives a unique touch to a film that works like a time bomb of cosmic horror and extreme tension.