One of the elements I truly loved about “Altitude” is that director Kaare Andrews manages to convey a sense of isolation in the open skies. He constantly zooms back upon open spaces and landing strips mountain ranges, all of which are dwarfed when the people inside the small aircraft find themselves in the middle of a mysterious nowhere land in the sky being terrorized by unexplained phenomenon threatening to throw them in to oblivion. Andrews who has a past in comic books really knows how to express a sense of the EC Comics atmosphere where every scene is painted like a graphic novel, especially when the group of friends venture in to the blue sky to be confronted with a black cloud that brings them in to an endless abyss of lightning, darkness, and zero answers for survival.
Andrews creates a film in the vein of “The Langoliers” mixed with “The Mist” in where these people are stuck in the middle of nowhere being terrorized by menaces in the darkness that they can’t see through the bickering and panicking. We’re given glimpses of the menaces and some distant sounds of roars and squeals, but we’re not offered up a definitive look in to what is in the skies awaiting these hapless passengers, thus “Altitude” is a harrowing little horror film that kept me uneasy for most of the narrative, and I imagine it will be even more horrifying for anyone afraid of planes. Andrews draws the suspense quite well teasing his audience over and over and bringing us in to the view of these people looking for a way out of the madness. Landon Liboiron (from my favorite guilty pleasure “Degrassi”) is very sympathetic as the traumatized Bruce, a young man with a history of pain with airplanes who goes aboard the aircraft to please his girlfriend and aspiring pilot Sara hoping for something more than a simple plane ride as she’s headed off to school very soon.
The movie is immediately uneasy as Bruce becomes anxious and very uncomfortable especially in the company of two rival males vying for Sara’s attention, and a submissive girl also looking for the attention of the two friends constantly undermining Bruce. Andrews keeps the film very urgent and speedily paced with shots of the infinite abyss upon where these people trek against their own will and must soon figure out where they are. Are they in purgatory? Another dimension? Were they abducted by aliens? Did they fly through a hole in to an alternate reality? Most importantly why haven’t they stopped flying especially since they’ve run out of fuel? Andrews horror film really does keep up with tension and mounting dread as the film gets darker and darker with peeks and glimpses in to the menace in the skies.
It soon touches upon themes of trauma and repressed fears to make “Altitude” a much more complex horror film with ambiguous plot devices that blur the lines of reality and nightmares. The big pay off in the finale is rather harrowing and Andrew delivers with a horrifying and yet mind boggling closing scene that will provoke conversation among viewers after the credits have rolled. Beyond the characters of Bruce and Sara I cared nothing for the other passengers on the plane and writer Paul A. Birkett makes no real stride in bringing them in to a more three dimensional characterizations that will help us empathize with their situations some more. These are three of the most grating vapid characters I’ve ever seen in a horror film and they do little to inspire any interest beyond posing as just characters for a body count.
Not even the character of Sal is a decent antagonist because he’s such a cartoonish buffoon with no rhyme or reason to his moronic tendencies to push people around that he’s just injected to make the movie more difficult to swallow, there’s very little to him to even remotely like. There’s also not a good explanation on why character Sara would even be friends with him. And the characters of Cory and Mel have a hinted sexual tension that’s touched on for moments every time the narrative slows, but it doesn’t inspire any drama or compelling reason to care once they’ve bitten the big ones. Aside from that, the climax while thought provoking is slightly muddled and doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go with its character of Bruce and the obvious relevance he holds to the situation at hand.
Anyone who sees the prologue to the movie will catch on to where Bruce factors in to this horror, and from thereon in it takes themes of reality, fate, and fiction to a new realm of confusion that is never quite made coherent at all. I’d like to think we’re meant to perceive the ending how we want, but I think the writer just didn’t know what to do with it and left it in the air. In spite of one dimensional characters, and a muddled however surprising ending, “Altitude” is a very solid horror film with a claustrophobic setting, startling special effects, some good performances from its two principle cast members, and a wicked pay off for fans of giant monster movies looking for some awe inspiring imagery by way of Cthulhu.