A Twilight Zone episode stretch to feature length with little to plug the gaps, Altitude is a disappointing mess.
It is actually presented in a slick, professional format with its issues hidden just below the surface. The film sits uncomfortably between self-aware pastiche and over-earnest melodrama.
While the cast do acquit themselves rather well, there is just too little on the page to work with.
The character archetypes are paraded on screen in good time, but before the plane is even in the air we’re given a serious moment between our intrepid pilot Sara (Jessica Lowndes) and her unsettling boyfriend Bruce (Landon Liboiron). It’s a disappointing stutter serving only to delay the action, a problem the film never quite shakes off.
Every time a scene builds to genuine tension our hapless teenagers break into inane squabbling more at home in the likes of the OC. This seems a real shame when there are number of self-deprecating zingers scattered throughout the script. “You guys are fucking death magnets” utters Sal and “You’re not a radio expert Sal, none of us are” spring from the lips of an exasperated Sara.
Jake Weary plays Sal, the most outrageously clichéd jock since Revenge of the Nerds. He antagonises the two sensitive boys, one a musician the other a comic book fan, with great initial enthusiasm. His girlfriend Mel (Julianna Guill) even asks him to “remind me why I date you again” such is his level of unsociability. Even he however, eventually succumbs to the fate of the entire cast – an ill-judged arc with unsatisfying resolution.
Each attempt to subvert the archetypes rings false, Cory (Ryan Donowho) as the delusional musician infatuated with the popular girl, cannot help but fail to convince in one of the films few action sequences.
Part of the tonal issue is that the shooting style would be better suited to a Bruckheimer production.
There are so many long sweeping shots of the airport with the light blown out it would feel like an advert for air travel were there not the obligatory ominous cutaways to shaking components. The majority of the film however takes place in the storm with such harsh lighting characters are occasionally lost in the background. There is a real sense of claustrophobia thanks in no small part to the excellent sound design and the less flashy camerawork in much of the second act.
The final revelation doesn’t excuse the films shortcomings but satisfies the plot rather well. There’s nothing shocking or even unexpected to be found here and it takes an age to arrive, but with characters pushed to breaking point we finally have a piece of drama worth watching.
There’s even time for another great line “Stop being such a pussy and face your fears”.
Altitude does feel like a slightly misguided, but genuine attempt to revive the idea driven horror drama popularised by The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. The cast are totally committed and there is much to like when it’s not bogged down by its own self-importance.
Director Kaare Andrews does show some flare behind the camera but it is just too bombastic to suit either the intense horror or overwrought drama this film cannot choose between.
It all leads to an uneasy mix, too sentimental for thrills and chills but too silly to be taken seriously.