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February 19, 2011

Movie Review: Altitude (2010)

By Greg Goodsell

“One upon a time, a man married this woman,” a college humor magazine once offered up as an example of a twist, “surprise” ending. “It turned out that the man was really her brother, and she was his sister, and they all actually lived on the planet Mars! The End.” The above passage was intended to demonstrate that in order for a shock conclusion to work, the narrative preceding it had to be consistent throughout, and not simply an arbitrary device stapled on at the last minute.

Buy Altitude on DVD or Blu-ray

This example came to mind while watching Altitude, an action adventure-horror-science-fiction whatever from our good friends at Anchor Bay. Too technically competent to be lumped in the WTF? category such as Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003) or After Last Season (2009), Altitude will nonetheless have audiences laughing out loud in stupefied amazement.

Pretty brunette pilot Jessica Lowndes invites her stereotypical pack of friends on a flight in a rented plane to attend a nearby rock concert. Her passenger list includes a macho man of action (Ryan Donowho), a bleached blonde bimbo (Julianna Guill), an asshole jock (Jake Weary) and a near-catatonic comic book nerd (Landon Liboiron).

The chuckles start early. Our plucky heroine fills in her passengers about aviation and travel safety in long, drawn-out dialogue scenes at the beginning, only to tearfully confess later on that she’s neglected to follow through on any of them! This gal shouldn’t be allowed to drive a golf cart, let alone a plane with passengers. When an unidentified bolt comes undone and prevents the plane’s rear wings to decline, the accursed craft is forced to climb ever higher into dark storm clouds, plunging the characters into a dark, surrealistic environment lit by lightning flashes.

By this point, we expect a retread of Anchor Bay’s Frozen (2010), a thriller that focused on a trio of likewise unsympathetic twenty-somethings trapped on a ski lift. Screenwriter Paul A. Birkett, however must have realized at this point that the chances of suspense being generated given the character’s predicament were nil – i.e. the plane goes down, they all die together. Birkett throws a curve ball just as Altitude hits the one hour mark, as a many tentacled Lovecraftian beastie begins to menace the passengers, plucking them out of the plane’s windows one by one. Said monster is an especially hasty bit of business. Used sparingly, the creature resembles a reject from The Crawling Eye/The Trollenberg Terror (1958) terrorizing an all too apparent model airplane.

Altitude confounds expectations by becoming even more ridiculous from this point, with a back story involving the nerd and Lowndes that appears to be sly commentary the inherent solipsism of geeks. The welfare families who caught Altitude at dollar theaters have long chucked their buckets of popcorn at the screen by this point as the film stumbles to its nonsensical conclusion.

Watching this film with a 40-ouncer on one knee and a bowl of chips on the other, this reviewer admits that he was thoroughly entertained. It’s remarkable how many elements Altitude shares with the M. Night Shyamalan-produced Devil (2010): one location, a supernatural scourge, a stern moral lesson and a curiously “upbeat” happy ending.

While Devil received terrible reviews, it tapped into crowds seeking a simple story, told reasonably well, and Devil was rewarded with a long theatrical run, well past its DVD release date in those aforementioned dollar theaters. Altitude has much of the same off-key charm as Devil, and should find the viewers it deserves.

Iconic film critic Pauline Kael once opined that since movies were so infrequently high art, that if we don’t appreciate and develop a taste for low trash, there’s no reason to attend. Altitude can be heartily recommended as the perfect tonic to throw on after one has endured through an overly serious gore film.

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