Downhill is a 2016 Chilean-Canadian-French action horror thriller film directed by Patricio Valladares (Hidden in the Woods; Nightworld; The Ghosts of Garip) from a screenplay co-written with Barry Keating (Killer Mermaid; The Rift; Nightworld). The movie stars Bryce Draper, Natalie Burn and Luke Massy.
The story centres on a young lawyer trapped on a mountain with a killer on a mission to eliminate a sick man. “Think Cliffhanger meets Paranormal Activity by way of David Cronenberg’s old movies,” said Valladares.
After his best friend dies in a racing accident, biking star Joe agrees to go back on the wheels for an exhibition in Chile. On a test run with his girlfriend Stephanie, they stumble upon a badly injured man dying from a mysterious virus. That’s the start of a very bad day for them as they become the target of relentless killers ready to do anything to prevent their secret from leaving the mountains…
Using mountain bike racing for basic plot structure in a horror film is unique, that’s true. And, granted, originality should be encouraged when it comes to a genre that’s sorely lacking in it, but unfortunately in Downhill, it just doesn’t work. The use of mountain bike racing as a backdrop seems forced and far too airy; early on, when the concept is laid out through subjective shots of Joe (Bryce Draper) racing, it comes off more as a cheap BMX-ing video than a set up for character enhancement. It really does seem like a gratuitous and shallow move precisely because those early scenes were shot like depreciated extreme sports videos, thoroughly lacking any kind of substance; they seem completely out of place, leaving the whole biking conceit unnecessary and silly.
This is made all the more obvious when looking back at the opening scenes with the dippy banter between Joe, Charlie (Eyal Meyer), and Stephanie (Natalie Burn) just before Charlie’s desultory dispatch. It’s those kinds of artificial attempts at character development that cause the experienced viewer to roll his eyes and lose the will to live. After Charlie’s death, the old you’ve-got-to-get-over-it cliché rears its tired head with the appearance of contrived tension between pushy promoter friend, Pablo (Ariel Levy), and Joe, followed up with a heaping helping of the exceptionally creaky you-can’t-keep-hiding-from-the-world tirade from Stephanie, who desperately wants him to take part in Pablo’s biking event. Once the browbeating wears Joe down and the couple arrives in Chile, however, the film does pick up slightly and begins to gain its footing, although not by much. The xenophobia trope, which is the whole basis of the film, takes its bow when Joe and Stephanie encounter, in a not so subtle introduction, what will obviously turn out to be the very bad local men who will be causing them no end of problems in the second and third acts.
Scripters, Barry Keating and Patricio Valladares, offer up very little in the way of believable characters or interesting plot concepts. Their shallow depiction of the dramatis personae seems more derivative of their extensive comic book and video game work than of any thoughtful examination of theme, motivation or serious plot construction. The script seems to have been written exclusively from the inside, by fanboy geeks who’ve primarily experienced very little outside of the uncritical, infantilised genre world, where ridiculous character behaviour is the norm, cool scenes of superfluous action are considered sophisticated tools of narrative architecture, and random, uninspired imagery, which can only be connected together by the greatest of efforts, are treated as acceptable modes of storytelling.
The scene, which is never led up to nor followed up on, of Joe and Magdalena (Pablo’s girlfriend, played by Ignacia Allamand) sneaking some raunchy long-time-no-see coitus outside behind a cabin at night is a perfect example of the unnecessary flotsam filling the script; it starts and ends suddenly and applies to nothing else in the movie, making it feel out of place and separate from everything else in the film, and is so brief and disconnected as to do nothing in the way of its purpose, which is to add a little negativity to Joe’s character. It’s just not convincing.
The sloppy scripting is even more difficult to understand, since Patricio Valladares is also the director. At least he could have fixed things during filming; aimless scenarios could have been dropped, details could have been reduced or developed further, clarifications could have been made, imagery could have been reinforced, relationships could have been made more tangible and less trifling, and editing could have been much tighter in several scenes.
The poor script and direction don’t do much for the acting, either, which is mostly atrocious. In the very few scenes where it could have been saved by tighter, vigorous editing, it simply doesn’t happen. Either Cristian Toledo, as editor, didn’t have the vision for it or he was overruled by Patricio, who also co-edited the film. Patricio allows certain scenes to go on for far too long, exaggerating the already overwrought spluttering that’s being passed off as terror, fear or anguish, depending on the scene. The one so-so actor in the lot is Bryce Draper, but the occasionally tolerable moments he does have are made irrelevant by the many embarrassing moments that dominate.
Get into the pass lane, and don’t let this one drag you downhill with it.
Ben Spurling, HORRORPEDIA
Kicks off with an altar, a sacrifice and something wiggly. Then we cut to some cyclists in the countryside, and what should have been Race with the Devil on bikes. Instead we get half an hour of absolutely nothing at all.” John Llewellyn Probert, House of Mortal Cinema
“As inset flashes of horrible fates foreshadow, the cult are implanting Lovecraftian worms in sacrifices – and they grow into tentacular chest-burster things. This is acceptably weird, but not especially well-staged and the shrill, uninvolving characters undercut any fear factor. And most of the film is the umpteenth standardised chase-through-the-woods variant on The Most Dangerous Game.” The Kim Newman Web Site
Buy DVD: Amazon.co.uk
“Ultimately, Downhill gave us a strong first act with an amazing amount of potential that at times was frustratingly underutilized. Some odd twists and unanswered questions muddled the third act but where the arcs lacked it made up for with fantastically impressive visual FX’s.” Joe Leatherman, UK Horror Scene
Cast and characters:
- Natalia Burn as Stephanie – Killer Mermaid; Awaken; Wrath of the Dead
- Bryce Draper as Joe – Muck; Minutes to Midnight
- Ariel Levy as Pablo – The Green Inferno; Exorcistas; Lake Mead
- Ignacia Allamand as Magdalena – The Green Inferno; Aftershock; Knock Knock
- Luke Massy as Alpha Hunter – Hidden in the Woods (2014)
- Matías López as Stranger
- Eyal Meyer as Charlie
- Evelyn Belmar as Blonde Runner
Las Termas de Chillán, Chile
Montréal, Québec, Canada
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