There are a range of horror films that, rather than go for a supernatural element or giant monster, rely on realism and a plausible synopsis to drag you in as the events could really happen. This works in films like Open Water, Frozen and Wolf Creek when it is easy to identify with the protagonists as you can imagine yourself in their situation which really helps to bring the horror home. The latest film to use this format and cross my path is Altitude, the debut film by Kaare Andrews, an award-winning comic book writer and Illustrator.

 

The opening sequence is shot entirely inside a light aircraft from the pilot's POV as she is flying a couple and their young son, who is grasping tightly onto a copy of the Tales of Terror comic book. Everything is going well and everyone seems relaxed until the young boy stares out of the window with a horrified look on his face and then they realise that he is staring at a slightly larger light aircraft on a collision course with them. Following the crash, you see the pilot falling to earth before an abrupt cut to a dreary airport toilet where Sara, a newly qualified pilot, has agreed to fly four of her friends to a Coldplay concert hundreds of miles away to save them a long drive. Unfortunately, this is a lie as the pilot, Sara, has just told her father, a colonel, that she is going to drive them.

 

When the group turn up at the airport, it is easy to work out the group dynamics as one of them, Sal, is loud and obnoxious whereas his girlfriend, Mel, is easy-going, her friend Cory (Sara's cousin) is an aspiring musician with a crush on Mel and Sara's boyfriend Bruce, a shy and doesn't fit in with the other three. As soon as they are out of the car, Sal begins hurling racial insults at one of the airport employees and the other two tell him to shut up. Once on the plane, it is clear that Bruce is a nervous flyer and doesn't appreciate Mel, a film student, wanting to document everything on her video camera. For a nervous flyer, it is strange that Bruce decides to sit in the co-pilot's seat, but clearly won't be next to his girlfriend. Sara is a confident pilot which she demonstrates to her friends as they taxi along the runway and then take off. What they don't know, and what the audience sees, is that a bolt on the underside of the aircraft works its way loose during takeoff.

 

As the flight progresses, Sal becomes louder and his behaviour more extreme partly due to the amount of alcohol he has imbibed and is now regretting because it is doing his stomach now favours. He and Cory begin arguing, Mel wants to film everything which further irritates her friends and Sara tries to calm things down by giving Bruce the controls. This doesn't turn out well as the plane goes into a dive and Bruce, panicking, can't pull the control column back so Sara levels out the plane and an irate Sal to reach forward and grab a collectable edition of Weird Stories that Bruce is holding and rips a page from it. Whilst all this is going on, Sara is in frequent contact with air traffic control to inform them of her intended altitude, inform them of her location and then ask permission to climb because of a huge cloud bank and electrical storm.

 

This is the turning point in the flight as, when Sara tries to level out, the tail flaps are stuck and the control column won't shift, meaning the plane will climb and climb. Unbeknownst to Sara and the passengers, this is due to the loose bolt which means that the tail flaps have to be manually moved so someone will have to climb out of the plane, onto the tail and then, once they have moved the flaps, climb back into the aircraft. Bruce is out of the question because he freaked out and tried to attack Sal and was knocked out and tied to a chair for their safety and his own.

 

Not only are the stuck tail flaps a burning issue, but the instrument panel has gone out of control so, surrounded by dark clouds and with zero visibility, they have no way of telling where they are, at was height they are flying or in which direction. The one thing they do know is that they only have a quarter of a tank left which should keep them in the air for about an hour. Suddenly, something inexplicable happens to the plane and Sara has to be woken by her friends. What happens from there, and particularly between Sara and Bruce, is extremely bizarre and may have something to do with their past. In any case, when they encounter a huge tentacled monster, they have a grasp of what is really happening and what must be done.

 

Altitude is a film that is clearly influenced by comic books and shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits as there were many parts, particularly in the third act, when I found that the film felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone; it's not the third segment in Twilight Zone: the Movie, but it does have that 'fifth dimension' feel. The screenplay is almost as if Paul A. Birkett watched several seasons of 1950s/60s science fiction shows, read a load of comic books plus some HP Lovecraft books and combined everything into a script for a 90 minute film.

 

Although the film does go into the supernatural in the second half, the first half is realistic horror that depends on the audience to think 'what I do if I were there?' to work. Although this is set on a light aircraft – one with two propeller engines – the scenario could almost be repeated on a commercial airliner which is a setting with which most people would be familiar.

 

Altitude not only has a director making his feature debut, but also a producer, director of photography and several actors working on their first feature film. Although this isn't as accomplished piece of work of those I mentioned at the beginning of this review, it is still an extremely watchable and tense horror film with no shortage of shocks and plot twists that will keep you guessing until the very end.

The Disc

Extra Features

In the setup menu, you find an option for the commentary with director Kaare Andrews which is very well delivered and he speaks non-stop for the 90 minute running time, even speaking over the end credits. During the commentary, he talks about the casting, how various stunts were achieved and, most of all, the digital effects (over 600 in all) as he confesses that he now can't watch the film without obsessing over the tiny details in each frame were CGI was employed.

 

Altitude: Behind the Scenes (49:03, HD) is separated into four sections: Intro, Pre-production, Production and Post-production and these can be viewed separately or together as there is a Play All option. This is one of the more comprehensive behind the scenes featurettes I've seen recently as it goes through the genesis of the project and various crew members’ backgrounds to the locations, stunt work, rehearsals and the filming process all the way to the CGI and sound mixing. Throughout this documentary, you have contributions from pretty much all of the principle members of the cast and crew, all of whom speak very well about the film and the relevant aspect of the filmmaking process under discussion. This isn't just a collection of footage that was captured during the shoot, but a professional and extremely well structured piece that was clearly made for the BD/DVD market.

 

Green Storm (10:06, SD) focuses on the green screen work as Altitude he is a great deal of digital effects – one in every three shots had some CGI – and basically goes through the film in fast forward showing you the sheer amount of green. It is nicely narrated by Kaare Andrews who explains how very shots were achieved and why there is so much CGI. In addition to Andrews’ narration, there are notes on the screen (presumably from Andrews to the digital effects unit in China) explaining what needs to be added to each scene, or even how to create a scene using digital effects which are interesting to see.

 

There is also the Original Concepts Gallery, which is well worth a look, and a trailer.

The Picture

By and large, this isn't the most expansive film you'll ever see as all the action takes place in and around the aeroplane but, when it comes to the electrical storm, you have a great deal of CGI with the plane surrounded by dark and menacing clouds. With so much of the film being faces against a black background, you need deep contrast levels and the disc delivers with inky blacks that aren't at all distorted or lose clarity. Colours are also solid whilst the picture is free from edge enhancement, major DNR or heavy grain, which is unsurprising as this was shot on high-definition digital.

 

The CGI is very effective for a film of a moderate budget so, when things get very strange, you go with it as everything look so good and, though the CGI is obvious, it exists in a world where there is no other way to create such effects.

 

As Kaare Andrews explained to the commentary, there is a great deal of attention devoted to the colour palette which grows increasingly dark as the film progresses with subtle colour tints including cyan.

The Sound

The only audio option is an English Dolby TrueHD soundtrack which does the job exceptionally well with great separation, clear dialogue and great directional sound from the speaker system. Atmospherics and effects are well filtered through the front and rear surrounds so that when the plane shakes or enters the electrical storm, the sound system really comes to life putting you at the heart of the action.

 

From the moment the plane leaves the ground, there is barely a minute where the subwoofer is silent and the low-frequency rumbling really helps to emphasise the feeling of being up in the air, buffeted by wind, rain and who knows what else with the omnipresent engine noise always there in the background.

 

Although the music is used sparingly, the score by Jeff Tymoschuk underscores the growing tension amongst the group and the most tense and horrific scenes very well.

 

Should you require them, there are clear and well written English HoH subtitles available.

Final Thoughts

Altitude is a very well worked and engaging horror film that escalates the tension very well in a nightmarish scenario that then takes on supernatural proportions. Whilst no classic, it is still a fine piece of work that doesn't suffer because of some overacting and less than convincing dialogue. The disc itself is very good with excellent AV quality and a decent set of extra features and is a disc that any horror fan should keep an eye out for either for a rental or a blind buy.

Trailer

Special Features:

Cast

Jessica Lowndes  

Julianna Guill  

Ryan Donowho  

Landon Liboiron  

Jake Weary  

Crew

 

Director:

Kaare Andrews

Writers:

Paul A. Birkett

Music:

Jeff Tymoschuk

Editors:

Chris Bizzocchi  

Director of Photography:

Norm Li

Altitude (2010)

Release Date:

14/03/2011

RRP:

£19.99 (Blu-ray)

Distributor:

Anchor Bay Entertainment

Video:
1080p Widescreen 2.35:1
Audio:
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles:
English HoH

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The Film
The Disc