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As a lifelong fan of horror flicks I have noticed that in the last few years the genre has undergone a rather drastic alteration in the fundamental defining elements of the genre. Replacing any semblance of a coherent story many movies now resort to an endless stream of mindless torture. It has gotten to the point where any budding master of horror willing to put in an honest effort to produce a movie more in line with the traditional tenants of the genre is going to stand out. I recently came across such a film with the high flying tale of teenage terror ‘Altitude’. Now right up front I want to state that the film has its share of faults. This is particularly apparent in the third act of the movie. What did work for me was the use of a family premise in a novel presentation and the simple fact that its film maker eschewed from the old standby of gratuitous nudity gallons of stage blood and a truck load of fake entrails. To watch a horror flick concerning a group of teens devoid of the usual puerile sex, drugs and rock and roll was refreshing. This film proves it is still possible to make a movie that is frightening without idiotic teens running around some deserted forest while an serial killer a few chromosomes short of a genome eyes them as his next meal. This film, for the most part, works despite the film maker taking on extremely difficult restriction in the circumstances and plot. Unfortunately, the majority of horror mavens are going to be gravely disappointed for precisely the same reasons I enjoyed it; the movie is a departure from what has become the acceptable standards for the genre. Some critics are extremely harsh in their appraisal of this film but I truly feel most of it was unwarranted. There is a difference between a badly constructed movie and one that attempts to move off the beaten track. The movie may faire better with audiences somewhat older than the targeted demographic since we can readily recall a time when horror had a different presentation. Those who out right condemned this film might do well to study some of the solid horror flicks of the forties before bloodshed became the main plot device.

The writer, Paul A. Birkett, has been building his career with low budget made for television flicks; the kind that typically wind up playing on the SyFy network on Saturday night. Before you come down too hard on this niche of cinema remember many of the foremost film makers got started in much the same way. Burkett’s script has all the required elements necessary for a successful story. He deliberately limits himself as to the setting and cast making for a difficult set of circumstances that he handles rather well. While not there yet this screenplay is generally more tightly crafted than a pervious opus like ‘Ice Twisters’ but he is still on a learning curve as he strive to reach his potential. That is the one word that kept popping into my mind while watching this movie; potential. At times Birkett almost had it but it felt like a different twist could have worked better. One of the most important things in a horror flick is finding a way to isolate the group while placing them in mortal peril. Here the old standby deserted mansion or dark and foreboding woodland for the confines of a small plane. At 10,000 feet there is no help in sight and even little mishaps can prove deadly. Placed in this caldron are five teens; a perfect number to explore some social dynamics and, if necessary, sacrifice a character to generate tension.

The kids in question; musician wannabe Cory (Ryan Donowho), and his film student girlfriend Mel (Julianna Guill), required drunken jock Sal (Jake Weary), the pilot Sara (Jessica Lowndes) and her strange boyfriend Bruce (Landon Liboiron) are off for a weekend of fun at a Coldplay concert. Last year the drive was so long and tedious that this year they decide to rent a plane to fly there. As luck would have it Sara has just gotten her pilot’s license which is odd since years ago her mother died in a mysterious plane crash. Teen rebellion is represented with Sara lying to her military dad about the mode of transportation but considering her age he had to know she was taking lessons but that is over thinking the matter. Her lack of experience doesn’t go over well with her friends especially when she requests the manual during the initial crisis. A stray bolt blocks her controls forcing the craft into an uncontrolled climb. The with the air growing cold and thin the only hope is for one of the guys to climb outside, move to the rear section and free the flaps. As if this isn’t enough Bruce is not who he seems to be and there is some sort of tentacle laden creature is poised to attack the plane. This is where a different approach could have helped out. The film was moving along fine without turning into a creature feature. Supernatural elements are acceptable in horror but in case there was sufficient danger to carry the flick.

The director, Kaare Andrews, is relatively new to film but he has a firm grasp on the proper requirements of the genre. A basis trope in horror is the survivor girl. Rather than have the young lady depicted as the damsel in distress this type of character is smart, resourceful and able to rise to the occasion. Sara fits the bill well for this archetype even with the unnecessary addition of a monster. There were a couple of well developed requirements for the genre played here. The Sword of Damocles is used nicely enough with the plane unable to properly maneuver. Added to this is the ever popular ticking time bomb. This plot device is manifested in several ways. The altitude is resulting in the oxygen running out, that is if the freezing cold doesn’t get them first. Finally, there is a lack of fuel. They only expected a short hop so the tanks were not full leaving less than an hour left in the air. With all this going on the monster could have been avoided making for a situational horror and the sub plot with Sara and Bruce coming across as unnecessary. I found it enjoyable but there was unreached potential here.

Posted 10/27/2010

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