Black Mountain Side, a 2014 Canadian horror thriller directed by Nick Szoztakiwskyj, follows a team of researchers unearthing a strange object in the stark and frigid Canadian Taiga. It’s the tip of a stone monument with unusual markings and a carbon date showing it is far older than it should be by thousands of years.
After the opening images of an exterior landscape so open and free, the cast of characters are introduced in a confined and claustrophobic series of cabin shots. The small group of men make up one of many native dig sites, but they are at the Northernmost outpost, 100 miles from the nearest native reservation. A renowned researcher named Professor Olsen has just been brought in to consult on the finding, and he is met with a combination of both interest and suspicion by the other men.
Soon the team’s pet cat ends up brutally slaughtered and ceremonially displayed at the dig site. When the native Inuits working on the find all inexplicably walk off into the wilderness towards certain death, everything really starts to take a turn for the worse. The slowly melting ice and snow soon reveal a threat greater than the men could have imagined. One of the men coughs up black blood and others begin to hear a dark, ominous voice speaking to them from the woods. The men have discovered something that will infect them not only physically, but also psychologically and spiritually. But is it just a physical disease or a more mythological and ancient evil?
There is no doubt that this film was heavily influenced by The Thing, but it also manages to have a unique voice of its own. A lower budget prevents it from showing flashy special effects, but what is not shown on the screen is almost as powerful as what is. We are never shown the markings on the stone shrine at the dig site, which are said to depict human figures worshiping a deer like deity. The human figures later appear to have become disfigured and sick, mimicking the illness of the men’s current situation. The descriptions the characters give are delivered in a vivid and breathless enough way for us to understand their importance. Despite that, there still a few great, gory scenes and enough graphic violence to keep any horror fan interested.
The cast for Black Mountain Side is a group of relative unknowns who do an excellent job. In particular, Michael Dickson as Professor Peter Olsen and Shane Twerdun and Team Leader Jensen give great performances. The film is exceptionally beautiful to look at and shot with careful precision. This is true not only for the hauntingly beautiful Canadian landscapes, but also the later dark, frantic interior cabin shots. The film takes full advantage of the isolated silence, gusting wind, and pulsating ambient noise to establish an eerie and unsettling atmosphere. There is no musical score in the movie at all, just this stunning use of sound.
But the film doesn’t settle on being an homage to The Thing. It takes the story to a further, unexpected level. As each man is infected by the mysterious disease, they turn on one another in increasingly violent ways. Professor Olsen soon flees down the mountain for help, where he will come face to face with an ancient horror. It’s an inexplicably chilling encounter.
“When an animal looks up at the night sky, what does it see? Thousands and thousands of tiny points. Then a man looks up at the same points and sees millions of stars. Galaxies within which are billions of planets. Do you want to know what I see? Were you there when I created the stars, space, time? But still you think you deserve understanding?”
After watching Black Mountain Side, the viewer is now left to wonder: was the mystery illness a punishment for humans daring to believe they could have more understanding than their creators? For the narcissism of believing they were more important than they were in the universe?
What else will be unleashed as the snow continues to melt? In this bleak winter landscape men who search for meaning will always be left screaming into the void.