If there is one thing experimental Filmmaker Rick Alverson (The Comedy 2012, Entertainment 2015) consistently excels at, it is creating a painfully slow, yet oddly compelling, experience for viewers. His latest film, The Mountain, is certainly no exception.
Originally premiering at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival, and hitting select theaters as well as iTunes via Kino Lorber on Friday, July 26th, it might be his most polarizing film to date, embracing misery more than ever before. Additionally, the film has an eclectic cast of familiar faces including Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse 2016, Ready Player One 2018), Jeff Goldblum (The Fly 1986, Jurassic Park 1993), Udo Kier (Mark of the Devil 1970, Blade 1998), Hannah Gross (Unless 2016, Deadwax series), Denis Lavant (Boy Meets Girl 1984, Holy Motors 2012), and even a ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ cameo by the godfather of Indie Horror himself Larry Fassenden (Habit 1995, The House of the Devil 2009), who also serves as an associate producer.
Set in a dreary, somewhat pessimistic 1950s America, Andy (Sheridan) has been forced to live in the shadow of his stoic father (Kier) ever since his mother’s confinement to a mental institution. A family acquaintance, Dr. Wallace “Wally” Fiennes (Goldblum), employs the introverted young man as a photographer to document an asylum tour advocating for his increasingly controversial lobotomy procedure. As the tour progresses and Andy witnesses the doctor’s career and life unravel, he begins to identify with the institutions’ patients. Arriving at a California mountain town, a growing center of the new Age movement, they encounter an unconventional French healer (Lavant) who requests a lobotomy for his own daughter, Susan (Gross).
The Mountain is a film that with the premise above could have gone completely off the handlebars with some over the top tone. What is fascinating about the film is how Alverson grounds it into something far more existential. He throws numerous themes our way that while you are watching everything unravel, you will certainly be feeling something. This is not a plot driven romp. It is a film cemented firmly in feeling, atmosphere and character. You might argue that there are in fact too many themes being tossed around that by the end of it all, you are left confused and coldly
detached… but sorry to say, that is Rick Alverson. This man understands exactly what he is doing and stays very true to himself.
As with the Alverson’s previous works, this is a film that almost borderline wants you not to like it. As if it is sort of retaliating against normal movies, or even movies in general. It is a film that when it is working it is hauntingly hypnotic. When it is not, it is annoyingly muddled. The characters are not particular likable – Tye Sheridan pretty much does not smile once throughout the whole film, the pacing is uneven, while the cinematography is bleak, cold and has a tightly confined staging to it as it is wonderfully shot in a 1.37:1 ratio by DP Lorenzo Hagerman. Plus its take on the pressures of heterosexuality regarding Andy will be something that will be further dissected long after the end credits roll. So yes, The Mountain is a mix of good and bad, but it is an art film. The only way you know if it is working is if half the people hate it, right?
Now despite the inconsistencies to the narrative and pacing, The Mountain might possibly be one of the most original films you will see all year. It very much resembles 2015’s The Lobster in which it takes on an unusually original story that just should not work yet by some sheer miracle… it does. The third act begins to lose focus and its pace flat-lines a little bit as we simply stop investing in Andy’s odd journey and by the final scene, you are sort of left scratching your head and feeling underwhelmed by it all. Having said that, The Mountain, though it is a pretty dark and miserable experience throughout, it in some ways perfectly fits into the current zeitgeist of American pessimism even though it takes place over half a century ago.
Now it remains to be seen how much The Mountain’s strange subtext will fully resonate with you, if at all. Although, it is very clearly seen that Rick Alverson is a true film-making artist. He is an uncompromising talent who continues pushing himself and his actors into darker and darker existential territory.
In a day and age where we are surrounded by nothing but mega budget comic book movies about people in spandex saving the world, seeing a filmmaker continue to create true art and push the limits of what is acceptable in a film is more refreshing than a cold glass of water in 120 degree weather. That is why despite some of the confusion, Cryptic Rock gives The Mountain 3 out 5 stars.