Directed by: Kaare Andrews. Starring: Jessica Lowndes, Landon Liboiron, Julianna Guill. Released: October 3, 2010. Runtime: 1h 30 min.
I’m spooked of heights – like roller coasters and the works – but I’m not too bad on airplanes. That is, commercial airplanes. I haven’t been on many plane rides in my life, but I don’t think you’d ever catch me dead in a helicopter or especially one of the small planes used in the film Altitude, a film that shows if you’re ever just making a short trip for a concert, just drive.
Sara (Jessica Lowndes) is a rookie pilot whose mom died in a plane crash when she was a kid. A week before she’s set to move 3,000 miles to Montreal for college, she and four of her friends are taking a trip to a concert. Enroute in the air, the plane’s wing has a malfunction on the wing and the plane starts spiralling out of control, and soon they enter dark storm clouds where they find themselves in a deadly showdown with unexplained supernatural forces.
The set-up for Altitude really isn’t that bad. We have a prologue to start the film and it’s Sara’s mom getting in a plane crash and there’s a little kid on the flight who is totally nervous about flying. In the present, we meet Sara’s new boyfriend Bruce (Landon Liboiron), who also seems really nervous about flying. His anxiety on the flight is definitely how I would be reacting, though at times it gets a bit annoying.
The other three characters have a strange dynamic: There’s Mel (Julianna Guill) and her boyfriend Sal (Jake Weary). There’s also Cory (Ryan Donowho) who has super obviously had a fling with Mel either currently or in the past and is also Sara’s cousin. The character dynamics are fine for a horror flick, but as we get in the air and into the stressful situations, Sara is really the only likable one here, and Bruce is the only other one with any development.
Sal is horribly written, but is a perfect template for any new writers wondering how to write an extremely unlikable frat boy. He’s antagonizing to just about everyone, rips up Bruce’s comic book when gets scared flying the plane, and is always so quick to lay the blame on people. His character and dialogue just gets worse as soon as the stakes are raised. At one point after something crazy happens, Bruce says, “Oh no, it can’t be,” and Sal immediately jumps up to blame him and starts beating him up asking what he did and just assuming everything is his fault.
None of the characters are interesting and the acting isn’t anything to write home about, either. Some scenes are pretty intense, though, like when they have to take risks to save their own asses and one of the characters goes out on the plane’s tail to try to fix the malfunction, but the horror is not very scary. Sure, it’s an intense premise as their plane just flies blindly through pitch black clouds, but it’s not very scary. The supposed-to-be-scares comes from a mysterious presence inside the clouds that, up to a point, only Sal has claimed to have seen. We hear it at various points, though, as a screech. Then, when we see it, all hell breaks loose and it feels too quick. Like, we’ve been teased about there being something but then they just open that can of worms and it just feels rushed. The monster is a Chthulu looking octopus thing in the sky, unexplained for most of the film as to how it got there. About the effects, the actual effects of flying through the sky look passable. However, the creature FX are weak.
The film’s main fault is just being boring for the most part, and then it just dips its toe into stupidity. Well, it doesn’t really dip, it cannon balls in. And that stupidity is the explanation of the monster and I like the idea of it a lot as to what they were going for, but how it unfolds on screen feels awkward and under-explained. The twist really just comes out of left-field and the ending to the film feels easy and the way it’s wrapped up is unrewarding. At one point, Mel theorizes that they’re just in a government experiment to test how people react to stress and it honestly feels more plausible.