Donner Pass (Elise Robertson, 2012)
I’ve seen any number of reviews of Donner Pass that all seem to center around the same idea: good story hamstrung by bad acting. I’m not convinced this is the case on both counts; at least two of the actors here turned in performances that I quite liked (even if I found one of the characters portrayed an intolerable ass), while there were a number of aspects of the story I found infuriating. That said, the main mystery here is a pretty nice twist on the wild-mountain-man theme, and if you’re looking just at that aspect of it and squinting right, okay, I can see where those reviewers are coming from. One way or the other, though, we’re all ending up in the same place.
Plot: Thomas (Grey Sheep‘s Erik Stocklin) is the new kid at an exclusive private boarding school. In an attempt to make friends, he invites some of his classmates for a weekend of skiing at his parents’ cabin in the infamous Donner Pass—Mike (Madison County‘s Colley Bailey, who should refuse to take any more parts in movies with geographical names), Mike’s girlfriend Kayley (Best Night Ever‘s Desiree Hall), and Kayley’s friend Nicole (The Purge‘s Adelaide Kane), an ice queen who hates pretty much everyone except her boyfriend Derek, but who, Mike assures Thomas, is a good person to know if you want to be part of the inner circle at their school. All seems to be going well, at least where skiing is concerned—as they get to the place, a blizzard is on its way in—but eventually, Nicole’s boyfriend Derek (The Echo Game’s Dominic DeVore) shows up with a couple of similarly drunk lunkheads in tow in the form of A. J. (TV character actor Brandon Morales), A. J.’s girlfriend Valerie (Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!‘ Krystal Davis), and Brody (This Tunnel South‘s Antontio Trischitta). Of course, rumors circle that Donner, the head of the party who were forced into cannibalism during a similar blizzard, is still alive and hunting. The group pass it off as an urban legend…until things start happening that lead them to believe that there may, in fact, be someone out there who’s interesting in having them for dinner.
While eventually, a lot of the seemingly odd pieces of the movie are explained (for example, Thomas being a doormat far beyond the line where anyone else would have snapped), that doesn’t excuse them stretching the boundaries of disbelief a great deal farther than the good portion of the plotline warrants. Topping that is that for the most part, the script, based on a story by first-timer R. Scott Adams, gives us a whole lot of characters so hateful you’ll be rooting for them to die, one by one. The only sympathetic character, aside from Thomas (and you pity him more than sympathize with him), is Kayley (who is really kind of doing the same); Hall’s performance works here. The other solid one is from Colley Bailey, despite that his character is exactly the kind of guy you want to expend your first punch on. Three characters, however, do not a movie make. I wanted to like this a great deal more than I did. * ½