In 1989 Soviet Union, six Estonian students, most of whom are geologists, travel the trans-Siberian train eastward. They are headed to Buryatia, which is close to the Mongolian border. Their destination is a mountain range that is not very well charted; where they plan to search for an ornamental mineral called nephrite. The hardships of them being there begin to cause friction in the group. One night, one of the male members of the group, Eero (Reimoo Sagor), tells the scary tale of the “ghost mountaineer”. But, the horrors become much more real, when the “team leader” Olle goes missing, presumably buried under a small avalanche that seemingly comes out of nowhere. The team tries to find his body, but they fail.
They leave the mountain side to report their missing friend. Arriving in a small town, they meet the police chief (Vadim Andreev), who instead of helping them takes their passports and holds them in a room. He is suspicious of their involvement with Olle’s death. Not helping matters is the increasing hostility of the indigenous Buryat people, who are even more pissed off when they realize that the young group has taken one of their sacred mountain stones. And, at least one of these people is genuine pervert with questionable tendencies shown towards one of the two pretty females in the group, Anne (Liis Lass). Things keep turning towards the worse and tensions continue to mount as the situation gets more and more tense.
May 8, 2016
Urmas Eero Liiv
Urmas Eero Liiv
Priit Prius, Reimoo Sagor, Vadim Andreev, Hanna Martinson, Liis Lass, Veiko Porkanen
Ghost Mountaineer (Must Alpinist) is an Estonian dramatic thriller with elements of horror. It is the film debut of writer-director Urmas Eero Liiv. While highly uneven, it’s not without its merits. That being said it also has quite a bit of faults.
The first thing you will notice is the beautiful cinematography of it. The mountainside and its surrounding areas look gorgeous, and the movie is filled with such beautiful scenery that even when I felt a little bored by what was occurring the stunning visuals always held my eyes. There are certain shots contained in Ghost Mountaineer that I could only stare in awe at. The beauty and the scope of this film are just simply amazing.
The editing in the movie sometimes contributes to the movie’s amazing look, but at other times it ends up hurting it more. I like the found footage/ hand held parts that are sliced in. Sometimes these are accompanied by documentary style narration. This helps to give the movie a sense and feel of reality, which combines nicely with the fact that this movie is inspired by true events. Unfortunately, at other times, this cutting in of images and moments, many of which had the more horror and supernatural elements in them, just felt chaotic and jarring. It got to the point where at times I didn’t even know what was going on. Honestly it’s the more realistic moments that work best and are most chilling (pun not intended). The supernatural ideas and aspects that are intercut are much less satisfying or fulfilling.
Thankfully, the acting saves much of these unclear moments. The cast as, a whole, is solid and believable. There is a very real and natural feel both to the characters and the performances of the actors. At first, it seemed that most of these characters were highly unlikable. I thought that Marleen (Hanna Martinson) was going to be the movie’s only truly likable character. You feel for her being in this decidedly crappy trip, but we eventually learn that the group really consists of likable people and we thankfully come to care for all of them.
Early on, as things turn better for the group we in the audience are then lulled back into a feeling of ease. This becomes a common thread to Ghost Mountaineer as it goes from calmness to tension, sporadically and leads me to the movie’s biggest problem; it’s very slow pace. There is too much of a feeling of ease which is later broken up by tensions within the group whether it be by something as simple as an inflamed tooth or fighting between two characters, but even these issues are resolved quickly or shrugged over. That is until the movie hits about the 37 minute mark, as Olle disappears, and then it shifts, only to slow down, yet again. And so on and so forth, contributing to the very schizophrenic and uneven pacing that the movie suffers from.
Despite my moments of boredom, I cannot lie: I really wanted to find out what happened to Olle and what was going to happen to the group. This interest of mine was it just for the purpose of writing this review, but because the movie genuinely held my interest and curiosity. The problem is when my questions were answered; don’t think I was fully satisfied by the answers given. At the same time this didn’t make me dislike the movie either.
Aside from the schizophrenic pacing it, there is an equally schizophrenic feel to it. It seems to want to be too many things at the same time: drama, mystery, thriller, horror film, and with all of the odd edits and cuts, it also feels like an art house movie. This is even further pushed at the movie’s climax, which is extremely chaotic and seemingly comes out of nowhere. At this point I asked myself, “What the hell did I just watch?!”
Ghost Mountaineer is a slow, but nice looking and fairly interesting movie. While it never fully takes off, it doesn’t really fail either. It’s too technically solid to be ever considered a bad film, and for the most part it’s unlike most horror movies. Although it did make me think of Frozen (the Adam Green horror movie not the Disney flick) and Vertical Limit, honestly it’s much better than the former and smarter than the latter. It’s a mixed bag of the film that inspired a mixed bag of feelings in me. That being said if you’re someone looking for a semi-art-house slow burn of a horror movie this one might be for you.
Ghost Mountaineer will be playing at the Panorama Euro Film Festival on May 8, 2016. The Festival, itself, starts on the 6th. For more information on the line-up of films please, go here: https://www.movingimage.us/programs/2016/05/06/detail/panorama-europe-2016/
Beautifully shot, with gorgeous cinematography. Has very solid and believable acting, and manages to hold interest and curiosity.
Jarring cuts and edits can be annoying. The supernatural elements don't work quite as well as the real world ones. And, the pacing is terrible uneven, feeling dull and too slow, many times.