Movie Review: The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013)

January 20, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller


In the winter of 1959, a team of nine experienced hikers ventured into the northern Ural mountains in Russia on an expedition. Days later, they were all dead. Soviet investigators found that the hikers tore their tent open from the inside and ran out into the -30 degrees Celsius temperatures in socks and bare feet. While there were no signs of struggle, two of the bodies had fractured skulls and two had broken ribs, though there were no signs of external trauma. Another was missing her tongue. Oh, and there were traces of radiation found on some of the bodies. With no rational explanation for the bizarre deaths, investigators concluded that the hikers perished from “a compelling natural force”, and the mystery became to be known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident.

More than 50 years later, a UK-Russian production decided to make a film about the incident, with famed filmmaker Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea) signed on as director. Instead of making this a movie about what happened during the incident itself at the time, however, the producers decided to make a modern “found footage” movie about a bunch of American college students who decide to make a film of themselves retracing the steps of the fateful hikers.

The result is a mixed bag. As a low budget movie with no-name actors and a director still reeling from The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996, The Dyatlov Pass Incident is actually quite clever, entertaining and occasionally frightening — relatively speaking. Renny Harlin still has some tricks in his bag and knows how to create tension and scares that don’t keep relying on the same tactics.

Much of the intrigue, however, stems from the crazy mystery itself and the script’s creative take on what happened to the hikers, which is not bad given that none of the theories (from avalanches to Yetis to aliens to secret military weapon tests) have been accepted as foolproof. I won’t give away what this film speculates, though all I will say is that it is fresh and no less stupid than what’s already out there.

On the other hand, the decision to turn this into yet another lame found footage flick in my opinion backfired by making the movie less real and authentic. What it means is that we have to deal with the wobbly cameras (though not as bad as in some films), the irrational reasons to “push on” with their expedition despite massive warning signs, and forcing the characters to hold on to their cameras when they are running for their lives. It makes the film campy and silly. We’ve seen so many of these attempts since The Blair Witch Project that this approach mostly annoys and irritates rather than create more tension, and it’s baffling why studios keep doing it.

The acting from the cast, especially the five American students, also leaves a lot to be desired. They just aren’t very likable or believable, and we just can’t wait for them to do meet their inevitable gruesome end. Part of that is the fault of the script, which is solid from a big picture perspective but doesn’t do much for the characters. The low budget also means the special effects are fairly poor and often look video gamey (and as a result they had to utilise a lot of darkened shots).

On the whole, The Dyatlov Pass Incident feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity because it is such an intriguing mystery. With a more conventional format (as opposed to found footage), a bigger budget, more bankable stars and some tweaks to the finer aspects of the script, this could have been a great film. At best, it’s a surprisingly entertaining DVD rental or on-demand flick (which is how I watched it), and I suppose that’s not a bad thing given its humble ambitions.

3.25 stars out of 5

PS: The film is titled in some regions as Devil’s Pass, which is generic and completely uninteresting, whereas its original title, The Dyatlov Pass Incident, is far more intriguing. The stupid poster for Devil’s Pass also has a naked woman with her back turned to the camera, which also makes no sense if you’ve seen the film. Go figure.

PPS: Trailer below, though I should warn that there are major spoilers from about the 1 minute mark. Never ceases to amaze me how trailers like to ruin everything.

PPPS: If you are interested in reading more about the incident, including the most prevalent theories, check out the links below.

Burgers at Bongos (Taipei)

January 20, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller


We went to Bongos after getting several recommendations about its awesome burgers, which are said to be quite a hit with Gongguan locals and students from the nearby National Taiwan University. Tucked away in one of the side alleys off Roosevelt Road, Bongos wasn’t as easy to find as expected, and it also as a somewhat inconspicuous exterior that could be missed if you’re not on the lookout.

Strictly speaking, Bongos is a burgers and tacos joint, but they also serve salads, soups, sandwiches and other appetizers. One thing you should know about the place is that they have cats there (they tend to roam around inside and out), so if you’re not a cat person or if you don’t think it’s necessarily hygienic then this might not be the place for you. On the plus side, they have a massive wall of used books, which you can read at your leisure, buy or trade with books of your own. It’s a great idea.

But of course, we were there for the food. The great thing for vegetarians is that for each burger you can choose either a beef or veggie patty, and each burger comes with two sides — garden salad, potato salad or fries, which you can poutinize for an extra NT$30 or add chili to for NT$50.

We ended up ordering a fish tacos (NT$190, recommended by the waitress) as an appetizer and the Deluxe Bongo Burger with poutinized fries (NT$270) plus the chicken quesadilla with normal fries. We also got a garden salad and potato salad with the sets. And here they are!


Garden salad


Potato salad


Fish tacos


Deluxe Bongo Burger with poutinized fries


Chicken quesadilla with fries

We were looking forward to the burgers the most, but as it turned out the fish tacos was the best thing we ordered that day. Crispy tacos, beautifully fried fish with the spicy peppers and tangy mayo. Just sensational.

As for the rest, it was a bit of the mixed bag. The salad had a nice honey mustard dressing but the leaves did not feel very fresh and were a little moist from the refrigeration. The potato salad was excellent, as was the burger, which had nicely toasted bread, a very solid beef patty and melted cheese along with a solid serving of bacon, but the fries were not good. The poutine, in particular, was just too soggy and not hot enough, and even the regular fries were not crispy enough. The chicken quesadilla was not bad, a little on the dry side, but went well with the tomato salsa and sour cream.

On the whole, it was fairly satisfying and good enough to go back just for the fish tacos! I’d like to find an opportunity to head back.





Address: No. 23, Lane 283, Roosevelt Road Section 3, Daan District, Taipei (nearest MRT Taipower Building or Gongguan)

Phone: (02) 2365 2769

Hours: 11:30am-10pm