Anchor Bay // 2010 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // November 8th, 2010
Fear is in the air.
Take a close look at the DVD cover for Altitude (Blu-ray).
a) A small airplane
b) A dude hanging out of the airplane
c) An ominous tentacle monster reaching out for the airplane
Five teenage friends, on the way to a rock concert, rent a small plane, and set out into the skies. Led by rookie pilot Sara (Jessica Lowndes), the flight runs immediately into trouble, as the instruments begin to malfunction and the plane keeps climbing higher and higher. A dark blackness creeps into the sky, and soon the plane is flying blind and lost in the skies, higher than humanly possible. A mysterious force seems to have the plane at their mercy...and one of the passengers may hold the answer to their survival.
Stick five teenagers on a plane, send it into the sky, and what do you get? Hilarity! Well, no, not really. Horror! Well, no, not really that, either. Altitude starts off all right, but lacks restraint. Within 20 minutes, every single horror film cliché in the book gets trounced out and implemented: romantic love triangles leading to violence, people going crazy, tying up the one sensible man in the bunch -- you name it, it shows up here. Pretty much everything except the topless co-ed murdered by an axe murderer in the woods, but we can forgive the absence of that particular trope.
Altitude puts in a strong effort, but fizzles out pretty quick. The trapped-in-an-airplane is a nice twist on a modern subgenre of horror -- people being trapped in confined spaces -- but we never get any genuine tension out of the situation. Once the supernatural elements of the film are introduced, they work at perpetual odds with the claustrophobic horror the film tries to nurture. Altitude is a bit schizophrenic in that regard, as if unsure whether to be a psychological thriller pitting friend against friend trapped in a confined space, or a supernatural horror film pitting friend against horrific flying sky monster. It tries to do both, and fumbles the execution.
For a film set almost entirely in a small plane cockpit, the cinematography is striking and visually impacting; dramatic framings like a comic book come to life. Hardly a surprise, as director Kaare Andrews is best known for his comic book illustrations and writing. His medium experience translates very well to the silver screen. Unfortunately for audiences, the plot also strongly resembles a real-life comic book, and what works on the small page doesn't necessarily translate well into a good plot for a film. Suspension of disbelief obeys different rules in a comic book than in a movie. Without spoiling the details of the film, the premise of the film, once revealed, is a face palm slap kind of moment. In a graphic novel, you'd just shrug it off, but in a movie, it bombs.
Even the characters themselves are walking caricatures: the guitar-playing soul-of-a-poet/rock climber hero-type, the testosterone-fueled beer-drinking crazy jock with the lettered jacket, the peppy budding film student with the ever-present video camera (hello, obligatory shaky cam footage!) These are paper-thin stand-ins for actual human beings. The plot doesn't exactly give the characters much opportunity to grow and develop -- Altitude checks its logic luggage, carrying on a hackneyed, nonsensical plot involving monsters and nightmares and all manner of silliness.
Presented in a handsome 2.40:1 high definition 1080p presentation, Altitude (Blu-ray) looks great on Blu-ray. Black levels are deep, colors are muted, edges are sharp and detail is tight. Some grain is evident, but it works well in the gritty, shadow-laden cockpit environment. Blues and silver tones are particularly striking. Audio is also a winner; the TrueHD 5.1 presentation features clear dialogue, great environmental effects and booming bass. Crank your stereo and the whir of the propellers and the screaming wind envelops you, exactly like it should.
Extras include a feature commentary track with an enthusiastic director Kaare Andrews, two featurettes ("Altitude: Behind the Scenes" and "Green Storm"), a concept gallery, and the obligatory trailers.
Altitude makes an attempt to shake up the horror genre by renting an airplane for the weekend, but ends up grounded after inevitably falling back to the same old tired horror film clichés we love to hate.
Still, if I was in a video store, and I saw that cover? I'd probably rent it. As rentals go, you could do worse.
Nothing to write home about.
Review content copyright © 2010 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site