Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Genre: Drama/ Romance
Cast: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet.
Survival films tend to resonate with people because they uncover a very fundamental aspect of human nature. Take, for example, films like 2007’s wildly successful Into The Wild or last year’s lesser-known, Saffy Nebou-directed In The Forests of Siberia, which both share a lot of similarities with The Mountain Between Us, especially in terms of the harsh conditions their characters have to face – although, in comparison, this film is a lot lighter in tone. But despite how much it borrows from such films, The Mountain Between Us is also not nearly as profound or challenging. At the very least, these kinds of movies may teach us one or two survival tips, like Cast Away did, yet the only thing we learn from this one is probably that snow makes for a great snack. The film also adds a romance element into the mix, but this comes off more as an unnecessary rather than innovative move. It’s fitting that “the mountain” appears first in the title, because it really is the best thing about this film.
The story begins when a woman named Alex (Kate Winslet) meets Ben (Idris Elba) after their flight is canceled. The two have never seen each other before, but they both need to reach their destinations in time. And so Alex, who is ready to get married, suggests they board a charter plane. When their plane crashes midflight, however, they are left injured and stranded in the freezing wilderness alongside the pilot’s dog. There are times when the characters feel like they are built to serve the plot instead of being well-rounded and interesting in themselves. Alex is a photojournalist, which explains why she asks a lot of questions (most of the information we get about them is simply through small talk) and why she needs to invade Ben’s privacy. She also owns a camera, which helps them zoom further ahead into the mountains. Ben, on the other hand, is a doctor, which gives him the freedom to say that he plays Candy Crash in order to train his amygdala – a reference so awkward even Elba couldn’t playfully make it work – and you have all kinds of surface-level character traits that seem as if they’re taken straight out of the doctor stereotype handbook. That said, Kate Winslet gives a convincing and impassioned performance, making us feel for her character’s physical pain, her desire to meet her future husband, and most memorably her need to have “1% of anything,” as she says after asking Ben to waste his phone’s battery life in order to listen to a song. Unfortunately, however, Idris Elba is hardly given any chance to display genuine emotion behind his cold exterior, though there are a few exceptions.
The Mountain Between Us is pretty standard as far as survival stories go, and some fans may find that aspect of the film fairly satisfying. What’s most frustrating, however, is that even though it seems generic in every other respect, it suffers from a lack of the most attractive and important cliche in the genre: an inspirational message. This is because it spends too much time hinting at and building what was already inevitable from the start, that is, the relationship between the two main characters. In the process, it doesn’t work either as a powerful, moving story of perseverance or one of heartfelt companionship, the forced nature of which becomes all too evident in the film’s overlong conclusion. Instead of enhancing the film, this combination just makes it painfully mediocre.
There are a few elements in The Mountain Between Us, however, that render it just a bit worse than your relatively average run-of-the-mill survival film. This is mainly because of the lazy writing: the film is not good at building suspense. Its blatant use of foreshowing in more than a couple of instances couldn’t be more obvious and predictable, so much so that you can’t help but roll your eyes. And when things take a bad turn the movie often tries to shake you just enough by exposing you to the equivalent of a cheap jump scare in a horror movie. The result is at best a bit absurd and at worst insufferably dull. To give credit where its due, though, the film does feature some eye-catching, wonderful landscape photography of the High Uintas Wilderness, which is the most warmly familiar aspect of this regular high-altitude melodrama. And it earns at least a few points for the dog, too.