Film Review: Altitude (2010)

Altitude Poster
Altitude has all the makings of a good horror/ suspense film. Problem is, writer Paul A. Birkett is so obsessed with closing every plot-hole and setting up enough realistic content to sell the weird twists that the screenplay becomes contrived. The ending of the film is as unnecessary as the big reveal in The Village.

Yes, it makes sense, places the film in a new context, and is unexpected, but it also goes against everything that made the film interesting and suspenseful to begin with. If the story has a bad ending, no amount of continuity and fact checking is going to make the film work as a complete project.

That final five minutes is an absolute shame because what comes before it is a tight little one-room horror/suspense film. Five friends flying out to a concert upstate get trapped in a large storm system when a pin inside the tail jams the elevator. Without the elevator, pilot Sara (an excellent turn by Jessica Lowndes, who consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty for lesser horror projects) cannot descend the plane to a safer flying altitude. The monitoring equipment begins to fail and radio communications cut-out. Everyone onboard begins to panic, coming up with explanations for their situation. Is Sara a horribly inexperienced pilot? Did someone sabotage the flight? Are they part of a government experiment (as Sara's father works for the military)? A bad dream? Or a waking nightmare?

The direction in this film is the real star. In his debut feature, Kaare Andrews stages memorable action sequences and pushes the actors to naturalistic performances. I hate to bring up other reviews and message board postings in a review, but so many have raked Andrews over the coals that I have to address it.

Many are blaming a lack of vision from Andrews for the film's failings. If anything, Andrews commits too strongly to selling Birkett's contrived screenplay. A lesser director would have made this a boring, unwatchable film. At the very least, Andrews creates palpable suspense and good scares.

The only performance that is "bad" is Landon Liboiron as Bruce. It's intentional, too. Bruce has a horrible fear of flying because his parents died in a plane crash he survived and he acts like a paranoid blubbering fool the entire film. This direction is sleight of hand and other movie magic. The audience dismisses the bad performer as not worth the effort and focuses on the play between the other four friends.

The other four friends, however, are at the mercy of the screenplay that hits unbelievable moments that coincide with the rhythm of air turbulence previously established. It doesn't excuse the poor follow-up to a good--but predictable--reveal at the end of the film, but it does justify how the film fits together.

Here's the thing with the performances. If you think showy bombastic acting that earns Oscar nominations is the only worthwhile variety of acting, you'll hate this film. It is a surprisingly quiet film that earns its few moments of anger, sorrow, or shock and uses them well. I really think the "bad acting" claim comes from people who don't want to admit that a film about a monster in a storm cloud could be any good. When something like this betrays expectations and turns out to be well-made, well-acted, well-directed, the actors almost always take the brunt of the criticism for not delivering the cheese people expect.

Don't watch Altitude if you can't willingly suspend disbelief. You will sit there and laugh at this film and think I'm a crazy person for enjoying it. I'm used to that reaction. I will strongly urge you to save your cynicism for a poorly made film and make a commitment to see this one through with an open mind. If you buy into the conceit of why and how they get trapped in the storm, there is a lot you can get out of the film before that ending lets you down. Even with the last five minutes, it's still better than most of the studio efforts that see theatrical releases.

Rating: 6/10

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