There’s the old adage “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, which means, I think, don’t be a superficial and judgmental asshole by judging someone or –thing on first appearances. In this case, I should have listened. DVD cover is meant to grab ones attention, to say, “Hey, consumer, over here!” and hopefully lure those dollars out of your wallet and into the pocket of whatever studio put the DVD out.
In the case of Altitude, I completely ignored that old saying, and gave into the initial stab of curiosity inspired by the cover. Say what you want regardless of the quality of the film, it is indeed a really neat piece of art. The ominous and stormy sky, the horrifying prospect of hanging out of an airplane miles up, the weird tentacles (or bug legs? Who knows?) coming from off panel…all served to instill in me a sense of Lovecraftian surrealism that I couldn’t help but give in to (the first thing I actually thought of was Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Horror Of The Heights”, a true shocker of a short story that I read as a kid and blows anything else horror-related involving airplanes out of the water). The description for the movie was something like “Five teenagers take a plane ride to a concert, something goes wrong, now more stuff is going wrong and they have to figure what’s going wrong before it’s too late and everything goes wrong.” Maybe I should have taken a cue from that and saved my money. But if I did that, you wouldn’t have this review to read now would you?
As the movie poster states: Lost in a storm. Trapped in a climb. Things are about to get worse. Broad, vague, and almost 80s action movie in the final line. It’s something like this: there’s this girl who flies planes, whose mother was a pilot and died under mysterious circumstances when she was a kid, and she and her boyfriend are getting ready to break up because they’re going off to college far from each other, except he’s not really into it, and then there’s another couple, the guy of that couple is of course a beer swilling jock archetype whose only really purpose in the movie is to heighten the tension in situations that really don’t need heightening( and also needlessly rip up the nerdy boyfriend’s sweet vintage comic). Oh, and there’s some other dude who I think is the cute pilots cousin. Why is he there? What’s he doing? It’s not important. So anyway, they’re flying the plane, to a concert, and suddenly it’s dark, and the instruments stop working, they’re running out of fuel, there’s some ominous noises outside, brief flashes of some cloud-shrouded monstrosity lurking in the storm, hostilities are focusing on the pilots boyfriend, tensions are running high and you get the point. Like I said, it was vaguely reminiscent of the Doyle story, with maybe a touch of Stephen King’s “The Langoliers”, but fell woefully short of the eerie and subtle fear that ran richly throughout both stories.
I really want to give this movie a solid review. I really, really do. But, truth be told, I was largely bored with this movie up until the last fifteen minutes or so. The characters aren’t very likeable, but the actors playing them seem to relish every line as if delivering them in hopes of getting an Oscar which made them laughably serious and only further serves to alienate the viewer. Most of the real shocking parts seemed terribly predictable, and most of the time I just wanted the scary parts to happen so the plot would move along and the movie would be over. But at times, the film seems poised on something great, and that’s the true tragedy here: in the hands of say, Stuart Gordon, or a similar master of inexplicable weirdness, this movie could have been really, really good. It seems like the script (or at least general idea) was written by someone with a love of classic weird horror (read: Lovecraft) and delivered into the clutches of some garbage modern horror movie mill that wrang any real goodness out of it and dumbed it down for easy consumption. Seriously. Everything about this movie seemed earnest and sincere, like they were really trying for something great and atypical of modern horror, but in the end I was frustrated and left wanting more because they made it entirely typical of modern horror. There were a few truly scary moments. For example, even though it was ludicrous as to why they ended up outside the plane, the concept of hanging outside of a plane while it’s flying is…kind of terrifying. And the brief glimpses of…whatever ever it is outside the plane, while being the victim of bad CG, are well done I think. The final shot of the monster, while lingering a bit too long and showing a bit too much, was, as I mentioned earlier, vaguely reminiscent of the Doyle story that scared me as a kid and genuinely eerie. The ending of the movie was so good it literally made me yell, “Dammit!” out of frustration and was enough to make me lament the rest of it. If the whole movie had the same quality as the ending, I’d’ve given this film a much better review. It came out of left field, it was creative and unexpected, it made sense, and in all honesty was more than a bit sad. But, overall, this movie just…didn’t do it. It was a horror movie. Horror movies are meant to instill a sense of fear. Aside from a few scary moments, that was missing. When I watch a horror movie, I want to be afraid of what’s going to happen next. The whole time, I want that. In John Carpenter’s The Thing, I’m afraid the whole movie, even when the characters are just hanging out and seemingly all is right with the world. In Altitude, it was like, “Oh crap! A monster! Ah jeez that doucher is talking again. Boooooring.” And then a few minutes later the cycle would repeat itself, and the flow of fearfulness would be interrupted and no one was happy.
So what should I say about this? How should I sum up “Altitude”? Well, it gets an “A” for effort, honestly, but other than that, I’d say a C-, if that. It’s worth watching, but don’t get your hopes up. In retrospect, I’ll remember this movie more for what it wasn’t than what it was, for what it could have been as opposed to what it actually turned out to be. I feel like Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, but instead of speaking of myself I’m speaking of this movie. It could have been great. It could have been a contender. But instead, it’s probably going to be just another bum trailer at the beginning of equally bum movies, and just as quickly forgotten.