I have to say it: Altitude got off to a bumpy start. First of all, the dialogue was so muddy that I had to put the captions on the DVD just to figure out what the characters were saying. The opening scene, showing the crash of a private plane, was pretty spare and hokey. But (brace yourself) Altitude leveled off and then really took off.
As long as you put yourself in the mindset of the spirit in which Altitude is intended — think: Tales From the Darkside, Amazing Stories, Twilight Zone, et al — you'll probably enjoy this trip through the unfriendly skies. The supernatural story follows a group of young friends who're taking a puddle-jumper, rather than driving, to a Coldplay concert. The pilot is student-flier Sara (Jessica Lowndes), and the passengers are Bruce (Landon Liboiron), Sal (Jake Weary), Cory (Ryan Donowho), and Mel (Julianna Guill). Reminiscent of the recent DVD release Frozen, Altitude puts cleverly-quipping 20-somethings into a confined situation and asks us to watch them react.
There's a little bit depicted of the group before they board the plane, and it sets everything up very nicely from a cinematic standpoint, showing that the cinematographer is good (when able, DP Norm Li uses lots of masters, vast negative space, and beautiful reflecting imagery… he is a bit hobbled after the plane becomes the main set, but is still quite able); the music is appropriate and fairly classic (no cheesy pop tunes; incorporation of natural, ambient soundscape); and the characterizations are set up in good order (Jessica may seem young to be flying planes, but her back-story is explained away satisfyingly enough; Sal may seem like a jerk, but he's funny; Bruce is a weirdo, but likeable in his fragility, and so on).
The first sign of trouble comes when it's revealed that as the plane gains altitude, a screw comes loose (never mind aircraft is actually riveted). Then visibility plummets to zero, the instrument panel begins to malfunction, and "something" seems to be stalking the fearful five through the sky. The mystery unfolds nicely, even though there are few surprises, there are some excellent tense moments — particularly one in which one of the passengers has to go out on the wing to check the air-flaps. In spite of some very dodgy CGI, and scales that don't match (a body floating next to the plane looks too big), the scary scenes are still effective.
The acting is good from everyone, but Jessica Lowndes is a standout (she was on 90210 and also starred in The Haunting of Molly Hartley, neither of which I've seen). She stays in character nicely, as the chaos unfolds (the screenwriter did a good job of throwing all kinds to questions out there, such as: Are they hallucinating? Dead, and this is Hell? Did they go through a wormhole in space? Is it a government conspiracy, thanks to Sara's military-man dad? Or could the Lovecraftian creature actually be "real"?).
While Altitude is not one to see twice, it's worth a look for fans of simple, horror-scifi fare. It's also interesting from the standpoint of low-budget filmmaking (Andrews' DVD commentary is candid, anecdotal, amusing and informative).
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