Column: Cthulhu Eats the World: Altitude (2010)

By Brian M. Sammons

Altitude (2010). Director: Kaare Andrews. Cast: Jessica Lowndes, Julianna Guill, Ryan Donowho.

If you’ve seen the poster or DVD case for this movie, then your Lovecraft loving appetite might have been whetted like mine was. It shows a guy hanging out of a small airplane in flight, surrounded by dark clouds, with a couple of huge tentacles reaching out to grab him. For a rabid fan of H.P. Lovecraft, the mind reels with the possibilities such an image could mean. So, with high expectations, I tore into this movie. Is this little independent fright flick the rare hidden gem that should be seen by all, or another direct-to-DVD, low-budget schlockfest best left to remain in obscurity? Well, friends, neighbors and fellow cultists, let’s find out.

The movie starts off with a family flying in a small airplane being piloted by a young woman. After a horrific midair collision with another small plane, things jump ahead some years. Now, that dead pilot’s daughter is a young woman and about to fly four of her friends in her own small plane to a concert. One of the passengers is a very strange young man who has a bit of a stalker-like fixation on the pretty pilot, while the others are generic college-age cannon fodder typical of movies like these. Which naturally means that they scream at each other a lot and are generally unlikable for most of the movie.

A short time after takeoff, the plane tries to fly over a huge thunderstorm, only to suffer a mechanical failure that causes it to continuously ascend into the rolling mass of black clouds that appeared out of nowhere and seem to have no end. The pilot and passengers have to figure out a way to fix their high-flying plane, which involves some outside-the-speeding-aircraft exploits. It is while they are attempting that bit of derring-do that they first notice the huge tentacled thing flying in the black clouds next to them. Check that – flying after them.

Soon, everyone starts to panic and for good reason. One passenger is quickly killed off. Another is a hulking bully in full freak-out mode. There’s the strange, stalker, wannabe boyfriend, the pilot with mommy issues, and the fact that, after the plane is fixed and they’ve been descending for twenty minutes or more, they have yet to see the ground. Oh, yeah, can’t forget the cousin to Cthulhu that seems to be following them. What is the alien creature, where did it come from, and what does it want with the little plane? Sadly, that’s where this film starts to stall out.

Up until the explanations started flying, Altitude was a pretty solid fright film. The acting was better than most independent horror films I’ve seen, even if a few of the characters were one-note clichés. The creature was used sparingly and to good effect. Oh, and it also it looked pretty darn cool to boot. The mystery of just what the hell was happening was maintained well. It was only when the answers to all the weirdness started coming that I lost interest and that’s never a good thing. It’s not that the answers were necessarily bad, only that I had seen similar explanations before and had seen them pulled off much better. Does that ruin the film? No, but it was a disappointment for sure.

Final Verdict: Altitude is not a bad movie, but neither is it outstanding. It is perfectly enjoyable in a workmanlike way with mostly solid performances, an okay story (if a bit cliché towards the end), and decent direction for a movie that mostly takes place in a small airplane. I can give it a slight recommendation to fans of the weird. For those who love Lovecraft and would like to see a movie with shades of Cthulhu-ish goodness, or anyone who just wants to see something a little different, you might also want to check this out. However, if you happen to miss this flight, you honestly wouldn’t have missed all that much.